Midnight Canteen (Midnight Restaurant)

I saw this film (inbound) on my last trip to Asia.  Following the inflight dinner service and a good head full of sake, I reclined back and 1 midnigh moviereally enjoyed this film.  It’s the story of a small izakaya (in the back streets of Tokyo) that opens at midnight.  There is no menu to speak of, but if you ask the Master; he can prepare just about anything you like.  Throughout the evening, various characters come and go (a yakuza boss, office workers, runaways, an exiled actress, etc.) – all looking for comfort in food and friendly conversation.  A sweet film that delights and shows, once again, the power of food and cooking…..

The movie’s origin stems from  a manga series created by Yaro Abe, which was originally turned into a TV series.  The TV series lists each episode around a specific dish or ingredient.  That item of food ties the whole story together-that is really cool!

Written: Katsuhiko Manabe (screenplay)
Kensaku Kojima (screenplay)
Joji Matsuoka (screenplay)
Yaro Abe (manga)

Directed: Joji Matsuoka

Movie 2015  TV series 2009-14

Japan

RECIPE: TARE 

This is the secret sauce from one of my favorite izakayas in Tokyo, called Hamanoya.  The restaurant was located on my walk home from work and was one of the first places that I had a true Japanese eating experience.  Very special memories for me….Ittadakimasu!

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Fatso

Food is comfort…well yes, but some people get a little too comfortable.  This is the story about Dom, his brother Frank 220px-Fatso_posterand his cousin Sal.  They are an Italian family living in New York.  Dom loves food, in fact,  his whole life food has been there to comfort him when things get the least bit sideways.  A wake-up call comes when Sal (another food lover) dies at 39 from endless overindulging.  At the urging of mother, Dom begins to address his weight issues.  Sadly, every attempt is foiled by food.  He joins “Chubby Checkers”, a weight  support group.  These guys usually get together and talk about how much they love food.  At one point, the conversation gets so heated that they have a total binge session eating everything in the kitchen.

Throughout the first 3/4 of the movie, Dom is wracked with guilt about how he looks.  His shame prevents him from pursuing Lydia (a mousy shop keeper who has caught his eye).  Finally, acceptance of who he is sinks into his head and he no longer self loathes.  This acceptance gives him the confidence to court and finally wed Lydia.  The final sequence is a bunch of photos of Dom and Lydia and their growing family.  Each picture shows his brood and belly growing all the while with a genuine smile.

I think that people really need to have a fresh look at this simple, thoughtful and funny film.  Self- confidence and self acceptance can lead you to happiness faster than anything.  I think nowadays people are beyond occupied with pointing out the deficiencies with what’s happening in every “house” but their own.

Bon Appetito…

Written: Anne Bancroft

Directed: Ann Bancroft

1980

USA

RECIPE: RICOTTA GNUDI

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The Hundred Foot Journey

The Kadam family had a restaurant in India and the son, Hassan, is being groomed by mom and dad to be the next chef.  The restaurant gets fire bombed as a result of election riots and they try to take asylum in England.  They struggle a bit in London and decide to move to the European mainland.  On the drive, the van breaks down and they are shown kindness by Marguerite.  She feeds the wayward family some chaud-froid, pate and other goodies from the French larder and they are amazed at the quality of the food.  Unbeknownst to them, she works at the local Michelin establishment “Le Saule Pleureur” as a cook.

The father, Papa Kadam, sees opportunity in this small mountain town.  The market has great raw ingredients, there is no Indian restaurant and there is a vacant restaurant space located right nexThe_Hundred_Foot_Journey_(film)_postert to the high end establishment.  So, poof, he buys the vacant space and puts up an Indian restaurant.  Now I know that movies are willing suspensions of disbelief,  but in all my years of shaking pans; I have never witnessed a restaurant deal go so smoothly and quickly…..

What comes next, is the bitter rivalry between France and India.  They do a bit of sabotage to each other and eventually come to terms with being neighbors.  Turns out that Hassan has potential beyond butter chicken and lands a job at Le Saule Pleureur.  Soon after, they get their second Michelin star…..crazy, because it took me over 10 years of hardcore study to get the smallest understanding of the French discipline.  I wish I was a chef in the movies.

Hassan moves to Paris and woos the clientele at a new modernist restaurant, gets 3 stars and decides to move back to the small town and get 3 stars for Le Saule Pleureur.  Just like that.

Nowadays, 3 stars are tossed out as first reviews; if you pay off the right people.  Back in the day – you toiled, worked and earned the stars over time.  Now – you hire the right designers, have the Prada chef coat, pose for photos like you are posing for a Russ Meyer film poster and I’m pretty sure 3 stars are in your future.  I have been to enough 3 star places since the “the guide” left Europe and more often than not I’ve felt violated rather than elated.  Things change, sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse.

Screenplay: Steven Knight (based upon book by Richard C. Morais)

Directed: Lasse Hallström

USA

2014

RECIPE:  CURRY MAYONNAISE (by Michel Roux)

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Off The Menu: The Last Day’s of Chasen’s

Chasen’s was one of the last hold outs of the “golden age” of Hollywood.  It was (in essence) a supper club that served up knife and fork food.  They did this in an ego-less way, while catering to an ego indulgent clientele.  Though not a great “film”, it still is very entertaining to see the history and hear the stories.  1 chasens_

I really enjoyed hearing the staff members talk about their experiences.  “They” were the true super stars: dedicated, professional, hard-working and all without whining.

Nowadays, you ask a server for something and you most likely will hear “ummmmm like, our “chef” doesn’t want to serve the salad dressing on the side cuz, like, its not how he conceived the dish and we feel like, ummm that the integrity of the dish will be, like compromised.

There still are a few haunts like this left and I hold them very dear.  In the Phoenix desert lives the mighty “Durant’s”.  A well oiled machine of a restaurant that serves healthy slabs of rare meat, unhealthy piles of garlic butter soaked bread and pours a very stiff drink….quickly.

Directed: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

1997

USA

RECIPE: CHASEN’S CHILI

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A Year in Burgundy

This is a wonderful documentary about one of the most fabled wine producing regions of the world.  It chronicles 7 vineyards throughout the course of a year.  From the budding of vines in the spring; to the fall 1 year_in_burgundycrush and all that happens  in between.  Striking access to rare pieces of land, excellent interviews and beautiful cinematography make this film one of my Tastyflix favorites.

These plots of land are ancient- just consider how old it is and how many producers are making magic (in such a small swath of land).  It’s a wonder that this region has been strong enough to weather the global economic powers, which force many special things like this to seek a mediocre equilibrium.  Each producer has such a different bent on how they do what they do.  The tension between generations; old school processes and modern techniques are evident.  However, the general consensus remains that what they do is special and the specialness comes from surrendering to what the weather brings you.  I love that.

One of the most colorful characters is Lalou Bize-Leroy, the formidable owner of Domaine Leroy and co-owner of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.  She is full of opinion and style and dedication to tradition.  The best line in the movie is when she is talking about pesticides.  She says “We should cut out the herbicides, the insecticides, the fungicides, the pesticides all the “icides” because they all just sound like homicide” 

I am all for technology, but in smaller doses.  It gives me pleasure that things like this still exist and are kept alive.  New is good but forgetting the past is bad.  The hitch with my country is that it has no real past and  what we do have is often forgotten or completely misunderstood by the lion’s share of its inhabitants.  Buy the oldest bottle of wine you can afford and drink it with the people you care for.  Think about what was happening when that wine was produced and all that’s happened since.  We are all here for a flash-get off your laptop, look around and taste some of the creations that make life truly interesting.

Written: David Kennard

Directed: David Kennard

2013

France

RECIPE: BAKED BLACK TRUFFLES

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Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart

Set in San Francisco’s Chinese community, this gentle little tale of generations, obligations and shifting traditions is a pleasure to watch.  The central characters are Mrs. Tam (the widowed mother) and Geraldine (her 30 year old daughter).  Their relationship shows the challenges that immigrant families face when they come here.  The mother is tied to some old world values that prevent her from feeling any sense of peace.  This uneasiness is further compounded after a visit to a fortune teller who predicts that she most likely will NOT see her next birthday.

Mrs. Tam believes that if Geraldine would just get married , then she could feel resolve about passing on.   Geraldine is reluctant to wed.  She is caught between her obligation to fulfill her mother’s wishes to move out and the guilt of leaving her mother alone.

Many colorful characters are intertwined in this tale: most notably a funny old uncle who dreams of the food that identifies his culture (duck wontons, shark fin soup, pork with shrimp sauce and dim sum).

Screenplay: Terrel Seltzer

Directed: Wayne Wang

1986

USA

RECIPE: STEAMED BEEF MEATBALLS (SAN ZOK NGAO YOK)

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Lo Sono L’Amore (I Am Love)

This film chronicles an “old money” upper class family in Milan; whose traditional order falls into a bit of chaos due to passion, power struggles, sexuality, death and food.Iosonolamoreposter  My description might be hard to follow, but so was the movie.  My guess is the director was trying to convey the complexity of old money families???  I especially liked the role that food plays in this film; in how it connects you to your past and how it can initiate a new path for your life.

The film starts with a party being held for the ailing (albeit still powerful grandfather) Eduardo Sr.  It is hosted by Tancredi and Emma (his son and daughter-in-law).  During this meal, a number of random things happen which seem to signify the impending fragmentation of this once powerful family’s textile empire.  The sequence goes something like this: Tancredi and Emma’s eldest son (Eduardo Jr aka Edo-named for the grandfather/patriarch) has arrived late [he had just competed in a relay but came in 2nd place].

Edo’s siblings complain about being served their favored brother’s favorite dish again, which they do not like.  It is a dish called Ucha-a Russian soup made by their mother, Emma (a Russian immigrant who has adopted the culture of Milan).  Elisabetta, another sibling and artist, gives grandpa a piece of art that he is less than impressed by.  In the same breath, grandpa announces that Edo will be the next CEO; thereby, passing over his son (Tancredi); who has worked by his side for years.  Later in the meal, the family is visited by Antonio (a chef, friend and person who beat Edo in the earlier race).  He brings a cake as a gift and in the exchange meets Emma (again, the mother)…….   sounds like a great party-ugh!

In the coming days, Edo visits Antonio at the restaurant he works at.  They discuss the possibility of opening a place together (in a property that Antonio’s father owns) in San Remo.

Later,  Emma is having lunch at Antonio’s restaurant and has a near orgasmic experience; while eating a perfect plate of prawns.  This is the turning point of the film AND what spoke most deeply to me, as I watched it.  From personal experience, my cooking has been the way to enter the heart of my wife.  Our first date was me cooking for her and though it took a bit of chasing; eventually, the food (and chef thereof) won out.

Elisabetta invites Emma to go with her to Nice to scout a location for her art exhibition.  Knowing that Antonio is in the area, Emma secretly hopes to run into him as she hangs on to the lingering effects of the magical plate of prawns.  They run into each other at a book store; then, go up to the property where he wants to build a restaurant and the shenanigans begin.

[SPOILER ALERT]  More turmoil ensues in the family: foreign investors try to take over the company, Edo finds out about his mother’s affair, and consequently takes a fall, hits his head and dies of brain trauma.  Exhausting I know!!  Emma is inconsolable-she is lost and cannot stand the heavy life she has been leading (denying her Russian heritage/language/food/culture in order to blend in with this Italian clan).

The ending scene is of Emma shedding her old clothes (and life) and running out of the mansion to go be with her new love, Antonio…….Be sure to have a bottle of wine open when watching; as it is as heavy as this reads.  The sets and scenery are beautiful,  the sadness and angst is palpable, the dysfunction is unresolved but in the end food and love are all that’s important.

Buon Appetito

Written: Luca Guadagnino, Barbara Alberti

Directed: Luca Guadagnino

2009

Italy

RECIPE: UCHA or its sometimes spelled UKHA.  This dish falls in the long lineage of fish soups of which it seems every culture has in one way or another.  The recipe given is approximate.  Like bouillabaisse-it really only is true to form if the ingredients are from the area the dish came to fruition. 

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Sideways

I am sure most of you have seen this film by now.  It attained a cult like status upon its release; doing great Sideways_posterharm to the lover’s of Merlot and a great boost to the growers of Pinot Noir.  It is the story of two college friends, who decide to have a private bachelor party in the central coast wine country of California.  Miles is a bitter and twisted failing writer alcoholic English teacher divorcee wine aficionado.  Jack is the over-acted over-the-hill peter pan afflicted gauche sex addict who is getting married.  Together, they get into some trouble, meet some women, drink lots of wine  and face some of their fears.

It was an amusing film to watch and it showcased a part of California wine culture that is NOT Napa valley.  I enjoyed the dialogs they had about wine and the characters are well- developed and well cast.  It’s a funny and sad film worth your time.

Written: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor, Rex Pickett

Directed: Alexander Payne

2004

USA

RECIPE: SMOKED SALMON RILLETTES

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Cooking with Stella

“Deception is a dish best served spicy.”

A simple tale of corruption, the mismatched world of expats in far off posts and the locals who have to deal with them.  Stella is the long time cook of the Canadian embassy in Delhi.  In those years, she has built up a good business of overcharging the residents and doling out the cash to herself and all the vendors along the way.  The husband (stay-at-home dad) is a chef who fumbles around trying to learn about Indian food.  He finds a niche teaching western cooking classes to the servants of other diplomats and wealthy people.  The end has a good twist (but I really did not like the characters) so I was not thrilled that justice wasn’t served.

Written: Deepa Mehta, Dilip Mehta

Directed: Dilip Mehta

2009

Canada

RECIPE: SOUTH INDIAN GARAM MASALA

Garam Masala is the basic spice mixed used all over India.  There are countless versions but this South Indian variety is really nice to season fish, chicken or vegetarian items. 

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The Lunchbox

This is one of the best films that I have seen in a long time-food or otherwise.  It is the story of Saajan (an old widower accountant who is about to retire) and Ila (a lonely housewife who is estranged from her husband).  They meet in such a culturally unique way and develop a friendship that intrigues and adds purpose to their respective days.

In Mumbai, there is this massive system of lunch box delivery called dabbawalla; wherein, hot meals are picked up from households and delivered to customers for lunch.  After lunch, the boxes are picked up and then delivered back home.  Sound simple?  Well, it’s actually a hyper complex system of organization and trust that goes back 125 years.  It has actually been studied by the west because of its efficiency and precision.  It is estimated that there is only about 1 mistake in every 8 million deliveries!!!! Crazy…

The plot goes…Ila (at the insistence of her auntie) tries to gain attention from her husband by cooking up really good food.  By mistake, her food gets delivered to Saajan (who enjoys the food and cleans the tins bare).  Hoping that the food has made an impact, Ila confronts her husband who brushes her off saying that it was nothing special.  It finally occurs to Ila that her food is being delivered to someone other than her husband, so she decides to write a note.  The ensuing relationship begins with these passing of notes between Saajan and Ila through this lunchbox.  Food connects them and they are able to communicate (in this strange way) through the common medium of lunch.

The story goes on with some other characters adding to the sub plots and an ending scene that really makes you think about missed opportunities in life.  As someone once told me, playing it cool is the wrong thing to do, if your really want someone.

Written:  Ritesh  Batra

Directed: Ritesh  Batra

2013

India, France, Germany

RECIPE: CAULIFLOWER POTATO CURRY

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