The latest in a tradition of mouth-watering movies about gourmet cooks has just
opened in Israel. Called Haute Cuisine or Les Saveurs du Palais, the film stars
Catherine Frot as Hortense, who becomes the personal chef to the late French
president Francois Mitterand.
Hortense is a stubborn, back-tobasics woman
who brings real, topnotch French cuisine back to the presidential palace. She
uses the force of her personality to make sure that she will never have to
compromise in the pursuit of the perfect dish.
The character of Hortense
joins a proud roster of movie chefs. Some of these master chefs are based on
real people and others are purely fictitious, but they all share a talent for
making audiences’ mouths water.
In recent years, the most popular chef movie is undoubtedly Nora Ephron’s Julie
and Julia (2009). Meryl Streep stars as Julia Child, the famous eccentric
American chef who popularized French cooking in the US. For her, perfecting and
popularizing the art of French cuisine was a vehicle for self-expression. Like
Hortense, who is an outsider at the palace, Julia is a fish out of water when
her husband is sent to France for his work. She proves herself to some
Frenchwomen who doubt her ability when she starts learning to cook, then spends
years perfecting her cookbook. In a parallel story, Julie (Amy Adams) struggles
with her feeling that she is not as professionally accomplished as her peers in
present-day New York. She feels most alive when she cooks, and she
decides to prove herself by creating a blog in which she records her efforts to
cook a recipe from Julia Child’s cookbook every day.
The most acclaimed
cooking movie of all time is arguably Babette’s Feast, an Oscar-winning 1987
film about a Frenchwoman (Stephane Audran) who cooks the feast of a lifetime for
two elderly Danish sisters who have never known such sensual delight.
while many European films have featured cooking as a plot device (most recently,
Mostly Martha, a German film that was remade into the American romcom called No
Reservations), two Asian comedy/dramas have tempted movie-goers with noodles and
rice dishes. The first was the Japanese film, now a modern classic, Juzo Itami’s
Tampopo (1987). Modeled on samurai movies, it’s about how two truckers help the
proprietress of a noodle shop improve the food she serves. This story is
interspersed with sexy and absurd vignettes about food.
Ang Lee is currently an Oscar nominee for The Life of Pi, in which a boy on a
lifeboat hopes a tiger will not make him its last meal. In the 1994 film Eat
Drink Man Woman, set in Lee’s native Taiwan, a father insists that his
daughters’ lives revolve around the elaborate family dinners he prepares for
Latin America has produced its share of good movie cooking as well.
Although slim actress Penelope Cruz may not look as if she eats much (most of
the chefs in these food films are suspiciously thin), she played a Brazilian
chef in the 2000 comedy Woman on Top. And the wildly popular 1992 Mexican
film Like Water for Chocolate is about a young woman forced to stay single and
discovers that her cooking has magical power over people.
movie often overlaps with the restaurant movie, and one of best-loved restaurant
films of all time is the 1996 Big Night. It stars Stanley Tucci and Tony
Shalhoub as two brothers who try to save their family’s failing Italian
Israel has also had a chef/cooking movie, the 2004
comedy-drama Something Sweet, which stars Ayelet Zurer as a pastry chef who is
attracted to her sister’s fiancé. Zurer’s graceful fingers as she rolled out
mouth-watering culinary creations in this film helped launch her Hollywood
But it’s not only humans who are interested in good eating. In
the 2007 Pixar animated film Ratatouille, a Parisian rodent who disdains garbage
for fine dining teaches an aspiring chef how to cook things his way.
while a rat in the kitchen may not sound too appetizing, foodies will oooh and
ahhh over the concoctions prepared by Hortense for M. le President in Haute
Cuisine. Food has never looked more gorgeous, and the raspberry/blueberry tart
in particular may well haunt your dreams.