|“Ulam: Main Dish”, a documentary looking at Filipino-American
Restaurants around the United States, is but one of the
food-related movies that we’ve found entertaining.
If nothing else, pandemic living made us realized how much of a role entertainment plays in our lives. Obviously, the absence of live, in-person events was felt by everyone, from the performers to the venues which hosted them to people who attended them as a matter of everyday living. And it wasn’t merely an economic effect; the toll of not having these options to help release the stress of sometimes dire circumstances was substantial on a mental basis too. Even going to the theater to catch a matinee wasn’t available for much of the last year.
With many people hunkered down inside, cable and streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Sling and similar received a humongous boost to help keep people in good spirits. From “Tiger King” to “Ted Lasso” to “The Mandalorian”, plus movies of all sorts (even a few which skipped the normal theater-only release), many people, including us, got to catch up on some of our backlog.
Keeping with that notion, this latest 614ortyPlatter playlist hits on a baker’s dozen movies where food played a key role in the plot. The average viewer will probably recognize a few titles, but there may be a few others you may not have heard of that may pique your interest. And just based on my initial research, there are quite a few more movies out there that would make perfect candidates for future playlist renditions (playlist embedded at the end of this post.)
1) “Tortilla Soup” – This movie proves to be a great example of how food often plays a role in the family, and likewise movies related to family relationships. This 2001 dramedy stars Hector Elizondo as a veteran chef who is slowly losing his sense of taste, and features his sometimes contentious relationship with his three daughters as well as a divorcee (played by Raquel Welch) to stir the pot in unforeseen ways. Take directly from the movie soundtrack itself, with Brazilian singing star Bebel Gilberto contributing her soothing vocals with her 1999 song “Sem Contecao.”
2) “Estômago – A Gastronomic Story” Staying with Brazil, this 2007 film directed by Marcos Jorge finds the main character Nonato making his way through an unforgiving world using the one talent even he didn’t know he had – his abilities in the kitchen. Representing this movie here is “Coxinha” (a Brazilian Croquette and one of the first dishes with which he showed off his talents) by Trio Chappahall’s, one of the country’s purveyors of Forró, a style of music which originated in the Northeast sections of the country.
3) “Pressure Cooker” – Featuring notoriously Philadelphia-area teacher Wilma Stephenson, this 2008 documentary looks at her and the journey of working-class students, as they try to both acquire the skills to become capable chefs as well as responsible in life-at-large. A song featuring the so-called “Philadelphia Sound” (characterized by lush orchestral backing and a blend of R&B and jazz stylings) seemed perfect for this one, and The O’Jays’ “Give The People What They Want” seemed a perfect song for what chefs all over the world try to do.
4) “Ulam: Main Dish” – Filipino cuisine has been on the “next big thing” cuisine list for quite awhile, but after some false starts, this prediction seems to be taking flight, as noted in this 2017 documentary which focuses on a number of Filipino restaurants from around the country. One such restaurant featured was “Maharlika”, opened by entrepreneur/author Nicole Ponseca, which proved to be a trailblazer in its decade of operation; we figured the Tagalog-language pop romance song “Hanggang Sa Muli” by Kenyo (off their 2009 “Maharlika” album) was the perfect tune for this slot.
5) “Today’s Special” – Some say the story behind this 2009 release is a bit cliched, but the story (a young Hindi sous chef with grander plans is forced to take over his family’s restaurant when his father suffers a heart attack) is a fairly easy one to swallow. Indian cuisine does tend to sport a little more heat and savory flavors with their masalas (spice blends), so we figured Penn Masala (an South Asian a capella group formed at Penn University) and their mashup of pop and Bollywood demoed by Cake by the Ocean/Gunghroo/Stronger from their 2020 Musafir (Abridged) album is the right blend here.
6) “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” – Directed by David Gelb, this exquisite 2011 documentary examines the dedication that many chefs strive for; in this case, it is master sushi chef Jiro Ono as well as his sons’ attempts to create their own legacies. to follow in his father’s footsteps. Offering up a dish of equally tasty music is none other than Neneh Cherry, stepdaughter of jazz musician Don Cherry and accomplished musician herself, with her biggest hit “Buffalo Stance” from her 1989 “Raw Like Sushi” debut album.
7) “The Search for General Tso” – Inspired by the research of journalist Jennifer 8. Lee, this 2014 film offers up details on this ubiquitous Chinese-American Restaurant dish and sprinkles a good dose of the Chinese-American immigrant experience on top. Interestingly, this film did have an associated soundtrack, and “Enter Tsandman” by Ben Fries & Simon Beins is offered as a tasty side dish here (from what it sounds like, though, the tune is nothing like the similarly pronounced “Enter Sandman” by metal music stars Metallica.)
8) “Beer Hunter: The Movie” – Yes, there was a day when craft beer was not a thing, but thanks to the work of the early pioneers/brewers who forged the way post-Prohibition, as well as its promoters like journalist Michael Jackson (whose efforts are acknowledged in this 2013 documentary), the craft beer industry has never looked stronger, growing to nearly 8,800 breweries in number despite pandemic headwinds. I thought briefly about throwing in a singer Michael Jackson song, but frankly, a beer-related song was far more appropriate. The origins of the song “Beer: 30” are somewhat uncertain, but it’s performed quite energetically by The Reverend Horton Heat, one of the leaders of the psychobilly sound.
9) “Big Night” – The late movie critic Roger Ebert said of co-directors’ Joseph Campbell and Stanley Tucci’s 1996 film that this film was “their labor of love. Their perfect risotto. They include just what is needed and nothing else.” Featuring two struggling Italian immigrant brothers who are trying to save their restaurant by cooking a marvelous meal for famed bandleader and musician Louis Prima, “Big Night” is said to have some of the most reverential food scenes of any movie, including the unveiling and slicing of the baked Timpano, essentially a pasta-bake in a dough casing. Here, “Timpano” by Martijn Ten Velden, a Dutch Ibiza/House DJ/Producer based out of Haarlem, provides us with music to sigh to.
10) “God of Cookery” – Director/Actor Stephen Chow has made a living at Mo Lei Tau (rough but not quite complete translation: “Makes No Sense”) comedies that, amazingly enough, have found success in the U.S. as well, especially with the movies “Shanghai Soccer” (2001) and “Kung Fu Hustle” (2004). The 1996-released “God of Cookery” sports a similarly wacked-out premise, featuring Chow as a fraudulent “Iron Chef” type food personality who gets found out,. However, with the help of female street food vendor and an unexpected encounter with a Shaolin temple that happens to specialize in both Kung Fu and Cooking, he attempts to regain back his title. Chow’s character comes up with the best dish in the grand finale, dubbed Sorrowful Rice; providing the musical backdrop is Country/Bluegrass singer Patty Loveless, whose “Sorrowful Angels” can be found on her 2001 “Mountain Soul” album.
11) “More Than Frybread” – Well, if Christopher Guest can make a series of mockumentaries, why not others? In this case, 2012’s Travis Holt Hamilton’s “More Than Frybread” fits the bill – we admit we pulled this film up at random thinking it was a serious documentary about Arizona tribal members in their annual frybread competition, but soon figured out that the tongues were firmly planted inside the actors’ cheeks (the final climax battle involves what looked to be a fun fisticuffs involving flying frybreads.) Keeping in the spirit of tongue-in-cheek, we offer up the hip-hop beats of “Frybread Snackin'” by Pawnee rappers Lil Mike & Funny Bone (off their 2018 “Beat of the Drum” album.)
12) “Ratatouille” – Rats and fine dining don’t normally pair up well, but Disney’s animated dive into the culinary world made that unlikely pairing come to life and proved to be a box office smash, earning over $200 million in 2007 and hinting that “anyone can cook.” Representing this movie and French peasant dish is none other than Herb Alpert, who assembled a new version of his Tijuana Brass Band for his rendition of “Ratatouille” (which added a “Rata Too Ee” subtitle to help listeners pronounce the word right), located on his 1976 “Coney Island” album.
13) “Soul Food” – We finish out this playlist with a bookend family dramedy centered around the dinner table styled movie with 1997’s “Soul Food.” Featuring an all-star cast, the movie centers on the close-knit Joseph family, whose traditional Sunday soul food get-together dinners and family-unity are threatened when their matriarch Mother Joe passes away after her surgery goes awry. We figured after all this feasting, a song you can wind down to while slumped on the couch would be perfect, and Isaac Hayes’ 12-minute cover of the Burt Bacharach composition “Walk On By” (off Hayes’ landmark 1969 album “Hot Buttered Soul”) seemed to be an ideal closer for this playlist.