Something must have changed this summer that caused a large influx of skunks in my neighborhood. I never saw them but smelled them. Plus it did not help that my neighbors’ dogs tried playing with one, got sprayed and came back into the house through their doggie door while their owners were at work. When I came home the stench was overwhelming, spewing out of my neighbor’s house. But do you know what, once I am in my kitchen preparing for a dinner party all of that nasty smell dissipates as my food is cooking. There is something about home cooking that instills a sense of peace throughout the house. I cook very simple dishes, nothing fancy. My tastes run closer to diner/cafeteria food than haute cuisine. It is the same when I go out to a restaurant. I enjoy food that has a personal touch to it, where it looks like it was hand chopped or sliced. Not to sound disparaging but I have seen some restaurant chains where the food always looks the same no matter how many times I have been there. The main entrée is perfectly shaped, the vegetable slices are identical; just look at the difference between machine and hand cut French fries and you will understand what I am saying. Another reason I enjoy home style cooking is the history behind the meal. Imagine sitting at a table with friends and sharing a dish you made from a recipe that was handed down to you from your grandparent or great grandparent. I think that is one of the coolest things about cooking in the kitchen. There is nothing more exciting than making something and it comes out the same way you remembered it as a child; I love when that happens. With everything I have just told you I want you to know that I am very picky about my food, beyond finicky. Despite it I would still follow the Pulitzer Prize winning food critic in this delicious documentary. WHAT Los Angeles represented to food critic Jonathan Gold was one huge scavenger hunt in search of a perfect meal. There was nothing he would not try. This film festival nominated documentary was a feast to watch, pun intended. Written and directed by Laura Gabbert (Sunset Story, No Impact Man: The Documentary) this film had multiple interviews with a variety of people in the food world such as chef David Chang and chef Roy Choi. I know this movie is a biography but to me it played more like a historical drama. The stories behind the restaurants, the food trucks or one item on the menu were all fascinating to me. Listening to pieces of Jonathan’s reviews was similar to having a bedtime story read to you. Honestly there were many, many dishes displayed throughout this film that I would never touch; but it did not matter, I was in awe of the elements that got that food to its customers. This man Jonathan Gold must have a stomach made of iron; I do not think he ever backed away from a meal. Whether made in some remote out of the way area of the city, a hole in the wall place or a food truck; it is obvious he loves food.
3 ½ stars
Between the two of us we had gained and lost enough weight to equal the amount of five adults sitting comfortably in a full-sized sedan automobile. I was having lunch with this old friend of mine who was recently in town for a visit. We both grew up being part of the large sized kids of the neighborhood. As we were waiting for the waitress to return with our food order, we talked about how our feelings had changed about food. Our tastes were always different; where she was attracted to creamy and buttery, soft types of food I was all about the carbs and chocolate. I was not fussy; I could be satisfied with a loaf of bread as well as a box of chocolate chip cookies. What we had in common was our mutual desire to seek out different types of comfort foods. Her favorite was macaroni and cheese and mine was banana bread. Neither of us ever had a desire to eat at a fancy restaurant. I know one of my reasons for not going was because their portions always looked too small based on the pictures I saw in print or on food shows. The two of us discussed how food had lost its importance to us as we got more in touch with our feelings. These days food was looked upon as a fuel source instead of a reward; though each of us admitted we did like to splurge from time to time on a favorite treat. The food looked amazing in this comedic drama, but there were very few things that interested me enough to want to eat them. OVERCOMING the addictions that brought him and his famous Parisian restaurant down Adam Jones, played by Bradley Cooper (Aloha, The Place Beyond the Pines), was determined to create a Michelin 3 star rated restaurant in London. It would become his new addiction. Because I am not that familiar with high rent food, I was fascinated with the food preparation scenes in this film. If any of it was true then I am stunned how stressful it must be in the kitchens of these types of eating establishments. The cast which also included Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher, American Sniper) as Helene and Daniel Bruhl (Rush, Woman in Gold) as Tony were okay but the script was only half cooked (sorry I could not resist). I did not feel there was much chemistry between the actors, besides not feeling much sympathy towards them. The script was strange since there were a couple of other story lines besides the main one that could have been important if they had been developed properly; however, it would have been too much to cover in one film. There just wasn’t much to enjoy here; I prefer my movies well done.
1 3/4 stars
When you first walked into the place you were hit with a curious aroma of cured meats, baked goods and chicken soup. High above on the back wall behind the massive glass counter hung a variety sausages and salamis, each one hanging like cocoons in different stages of undress. Inside the glass counter were bowls and pans overflowing with such a span of foods you could spend weeks until you had tasted each one. My favorite part was the area off to the side that had bins filled with light and dark colored breads. I remembered how I would stand in line and be offered the end piece from a loaf of bread from one of the employees behind the counter, feeling lucky beyond belief. Just beyond this area was a long counter with stools set in front of it. Here is where you would mostly see men sitting early in the morning eating breakfast. They would be seated with a cup of steaming coffee placed in front of them. All of the men would be folding their tall newspapers into the smallest squares like origami masters, as they waited for their meal. After the counter the space opened up into a large dining room filled with booths and tables that waitresses navigated like errant pinballs. I loved this place because of the food; however, what really made it special for me was the lure the place had on my relatives. They would travel from the suburbs to the city to meet us for a meal. Life at a delicatessen was like being in a whole different world, filled with family recipes, traditions and kinship. THIS documentary could easily make a person hungry. The stars of this film were the few remaining delicatessens left in the United States. At one time there were thousands of them across the country; sadly their numbers have dwindled down to a handful. Part history and part personal stories, some of the individuals interviewed were comedian Jerry Stiller (Hairspray, Seinfeld-TV), newscaster Larry King (Larry King Live-TV) and deli owner Ziggy Gruber of Kenny & Ziggy’s deli in Houston, Texas. I was fascinated more by the historical aspects of the story than listening to the deli owners talk about their personal lives. Granted it was somewhat interesting from a sociological stance, but I found them becoming similar and a bit boring. Possibly it may have been caused by the amount of places visited like Katz’s and 2nd Avenue Deli. I am not sure this film will interest a lot of people; it may be more of a niche movie. If you have never been to a deli, you might find the food portions obscene. Besides, the food was not meant to be fancy or trendy; it was simply good solid comfort food that could easily trigger a fond memory.
Keep the luxury cars, the big mansions, the designer clothes and the fancy restaurants; true luxury for me is taking a vacation. Being able to leave the daily responsibilities of living behind me, a vacation is a time where I can let the rigors of my days’ requirements melt off of me like spring’s first thaw. When away on vacation I always seek out meals from local establishments. It is funny, I am a picky eater who rarely orders something off a menu without asking for something to be changed; however, I thoroughly get a thrill when I can recommend a restaurant by taking a friend to it to see if they will enjoy the place as much as I did. Away from home, traveling with a friend, sitting and enjoying the local cuisine; the bonds between us become infused with a new joyous future memory. Talk about being relaxed and being able to let our minds wander together in our present surroundings; visiting new or old places in our minds, thoughts, ideas and just re-enforcing the bonds that made us friends in the first place. This to me is pure luxury and this dramatic comedy only reaffirms my beliefs about vacationing and eating. ITALY was the setting for this sequel about two friends Steve and Rob, played by Steve Coogan (Philomena, Tropic of Thunder) and Rob Brydon (The Trip, MirrorMask), who headed out across the countryside to seek out and review new restaurants. Traveling to places such as Tuscany, Rome and Capri; the two buddies were able to sit back and relax, while offering their thoughts and comments about life and food. I suspect a good portion of the dialog was ad libbed as the two men would spontaneously break out into celebrity impersonations, jokes, comments; all the while being able to keep the bantering between them flowing evenly. I had a hard time getting into this film at first because I was waiting for something to happen. Since I had not seen the first film “The Trip,” I have to guess for those who did, they would get into this movie quicker. On the flip side from what I have read about this picture afterwards, it is pretty much the same as the previous one except for the locale. It was hard for me to think of Steve and Rob as actors, since they were pretty much being themselves. The cast included Rosie Fellner (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Nine Lives) as Lucy and Claire Keelan (Hush, The Trip) as Emma. What made this comedic drama more palatable for me was the gorgeous scenes of Italy and the pictures of the amazing meals.
2 2/3 stars
There are few things in the world that can provide both an intimacy and a passion to a person the way food can. With a subdued power, food can catapult us to a blissful state as our taste buds herald the trip. The quickness in the way food affects us is astounding. I can personally attest to the fact that food has a calming affect on me. Not one to eat at high end fancy places; I am attracted to restaurants that provide easy comfort. Sitting down with someone to share a meal is so personal for me. The experience can provide a fond memory, joyfulness, a sense of kinship; any and all of these can be shared between the diners. I think that is one of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoy having people over to my place for dinner. The energy that forms in the house when people are present is usually one of peacefulness. The dining room table is a wonderful place to ignite and foster ideas when individuals are seated around it. FOOD can be the common denominator between people from all over the world; however, it was not the case in this caloric drama. Helen Mirren (The Queen, Hitchcock) played Madame Mallory, the owner to one of the finest restaurants in the south of France. When a family from India decided to open up a restaurant directly across the street from her establishment, Madame Mallory took it upon herself to be the savior of French cuisine by eliminating, in her opinion, the poor competition. Even if I was not a fan of Helen Mirren, I would still say she was just perfect in this role. She oozed with the haughty, better than thou attitude one would expect in such a fine restaurant; she was worth the price of admission to see this beautiful film. While the exterior scenes were gorgeous to watch, the interior scenes filled with food made me hungry. I read somewhere the director Lasse Hallstrom (Dear John, Chocolat) used real food for all the scenes and it certainly looked good to me. Along with Helen the important characters in the cast were Manish Dayal (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, White Frog) as Hassan, Om Puri (Gandhi, Colour it Yellow) as Papa Kadam and Charlotte Le Bon (Mood Indigo, La Marche) as Marguerite. Though I enjoyed watching this movie, the story did not offer anything new for me; it was very predictable. There were a few amusing parts, but a couple I found bordered on being offensive due to their stereotyping. If it was not for the cast I do not think this film would have been as enjoyable to watch, even though it was certainly fun seeing all the food preparations.
2 1/2 stars