I have been a cinephile for as long as I can remember; I was fascinated by the movies long before my feet could even reach the floor. Some children scream their heads off when the house lights are dimmed at a movie theater, but I distinctly remember the thrill of watching darkness envelop the theater as the reels rolled and characters appeared larger than life on the big screen.
Nowadays, I see an average of about 5-6 theater movies a month.
Hmm, so that’s where my grocery money is going…
For just about as long as movie theaters have been in existence, Hollywood and food have gone hand in hand. Over the years, there have been countless movies that either used food as a backdrop or as a central theme.
So, the following compilation is a mash-up of sorts–just as a sommelier might suggest a bottle of wine to complement a meal, I thought it would be fun list some great food-centric movies and pair them with dishes that would serve as the perfect accompaniment.
FOOD-CENTRIC MOVIE FAVORITES
(in no particular order)
The ultimate buddy movie (though technically not about food), Sideways tackles the issue with which many gastronomes and connossieurs wrestle–obsession. The movie does an excellent job of crafting characters who toe a fine line between appreciation and maniacal obsession. Paul Giamatti’s character Miles is a bumbling failed writer who not only has a great appreciation for vino but a deep-seated hatred (to put it mildly) for Merlot.
Best paired with: A rare 1961 Château Cheval Blanc in a Styrofoam cup (Diehard fans of this movie will recognize the irony–and tragedy–of this suggestion.)
Though it’s essentially a cartoon for children, this movie offers an inspirational lesson in the form of Remy the rat who defies the confines of what his family thinks he should be in order to become what he knows he should–a chef in the rat-hating city of Paris. While a rat running around a kitchen isn’t exactly appetizing, the budding friendship between Remy and Linguini the garbage boy-turned-chef pulls at your heartstrings.
Best paired with: Ratatouille (obviously)
3. Like Water for Chocolate
Set in old Mexico, this magical realism drama is reminiscent of a Gabriel García Márquez novel. The movie centers on the forbidden love of Pedro and Tita—forbidden because she is the youngest daughter in a family where tradition dictates that she must never marry so she can take care of her mother. Eventually, Pedro marries Tita’s sister but only to be closer to Tita who is forced to bake the wedding cake for the impending nuptials. Strangely, the wedding cake overwhelms the guests with sadness and Tita learns that her cooking has untapped powers.
Best paired with: Spicy Mexican hot chocolate
4. Julie & Julia
Based on the true story of frustrated failed writer-cum-blogger Julie Powell, this Nora Ephron oeuvre deftly intertwines the modern-day life of Julie with the fascinating story of Julia Child’s foray into cooking. After having watched her friends succeed in their respective careers, Julie decides to cook her way through Julia Child’s first cookbook–an epic task not without its hiccups along the way. Food plays a central role as evidenced by the number of kitchen scenes and both fans and those unfamiliar with the mother of French cuisine appreciate the food imagery in this movie.
Best paired with: Any of Julia Child’s recipes (though her signature boeuf bourguignon would be ideal)
5. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Chef and travel junkie Anthony Bourdain has bestowed countless praises on this film and dedicated quite a number of tweets to the topic as well. This documentary introduces the audience to 85 year-old sushi master Jiro Ono who operates one of the world’s most critically-acclaimed sushi restaurants in the basement of a Tokyo office building. As the story progresses, the relationship with his son and heir apparent Yoshikazu is examined.
Best paired with: Omakase (From the Japanese, meaning “I’ll leave it to you” and refers to an array of diverse sushi selections usually hand-picked by the chef.)
Toast is English food writer Nigel Slater’s memoir and offers a nostalgic nod to British food of the 1960s. The movie centers on a young Nigel desiring, above all else, to elevate his food knowledge and culinary skills. His mother, however, is no help as she can only make proper toast (hence the title). After her death, the cleaning lady installs herself in the home Nigel shares with his rather uncaring father and instantly wins the affection of the elder Slater with her unmatched kitchen wizardry. Even Nigel must admit that her food far outdoes anything his mother ever attempted and soon competition ensues–with a fair portion of the movie devoted to Nigel trying to decipher his stepmother’s lemon meringue recipe.
Best paired with: Toast (an obvious choice) or a mile-high lemon meringue pie
7. I Like Killing Flies
This documentary focuses on the eccentric, sometimes irascible, Kenny Shopsin–owner of famed New York City hole-in-the-wall Shopsin’s. Like a true New Yorker, Kenny speaks his mind and makes no apologies for his oddball menu–he cooks whatever he feels like and patrons are invited to either shut up and eat it or hit the streets. Usually cramped environs and rude service from the owner signal a death knell for a business, but Shopsin’s patrons prove they are gluttons for punishment as they consistently pack the place to the rafters.
Best paired with: Shopsin’s legendary pumpkin pancakes (recipe here)
8. Babette’s Feast
Appropriately titled, this movie offers the single greatest view of any true gastronome’s bucket list meal. The imagery is strong and entices the audience to want a seat at the dining table. The story is one of two sisters in 19th-century Denmark who live with their pastor father in a remote village and Babette–a French refugee who has sought shelter at their home. Rather than move away, the sisters choose to remain with their father as his caregivers until his death. To commemorate what would have been his 100th birthday, they decide to hold a dinner in his honor. Having been recently blessed with good fortune, Babette offers to prepare the dinner and as skeptical as the sisters are of the Catholic foreigner, they acquiesce and guests are treated to the meal of a lifetime.
Best paired with: Caviar and blinis (with crème fraîche), foie gras-stuffed quail, or walnut and endive salad (all dishes from the movie)
All movie poster pics courtesy of IMDb