In a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Alice Waters said, ”I can’t live without films. They’re like food to me. I need them both.”
I know just what she means. I’ll go her one better: I need them both at the same time. And by that I don’t mean munching popcorn and guzzling soda in front of a widescreen epic (I’d much rather eat something marvelous elsewhere). I mean that movies about food, good movies about food, give me a special frisson. So I wish I could be in New York to savor the witty and eclectic eleven-film lineup that Dieter Kosslick, the director of the Berlin International Film Festival, has curated from MoMA’s permanent collection, running from August 22-30.
More details and clips below.
Kosslick, a world-famous foodie, has a long history of supporting the intersection of food and the movies. He introduced a special section to the Berlinale in 2007, the Kulinarisches Kino (Culinary Cinema), programmed by his colleague Thomas Struck. Each year it presents about a dozen food-themed films, both narrative and documentary, mostly current, paired with a dinner afterwards held in an amazing period tent restaurant, lined with red velvet and mirrors. The dinner, inspired by the film, is followed by a panel discussion with food professionals and some of the film’s creators.
In the spirit of the Culinary Cinema, chef Gabriel Kreuther of the much-lauded MoMA restaurant The Modern, has created dishes inspired by Kosslick’s lineup. (A reservation at the restaurant comes complete with two tickets for that evening’s film.) For the opening night film, Big Night, there’s sepia risotto with gold leaf (I guess the timballo, aka timpano, of the film is both too labor-intensive and old-fashioned for The Modern!); for Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a trio of fish crudo; for Ratatouille, a ratatouille panna cotta with yellow tomato coulis.
I myself am most tempted by the poetically-named “Three Expressions of Pinot Noir” paired, of course, with Sideways, and the blini with crème fraiche and American sturgeon caviar offered as a paean to Babette’s Feast (pictured). And vitello tonnato, one of my favorite dishes, is paired well with Mostly Martha, one of my favorite restaurant-set films.
Knowing that Kosslick is also an admirer of my own favorite food movie, the eccentric French film noir Voici le temps des assassins, aka Deadlier than the Male, directed by Julien Duvivier, in which Jean Gabin is the chef of a bistro in Les Halles frequented by the Parisian beau monde, I miss it here. I wonder if its absence means that MoMA doesn’t own a copy. I commend it to all hungry film buffs! I forget to ask Kosslick about Voici le temps during a brief conversation with him on the eve of the program, in which he told me he was looking forward to dining in New York, in addition to The Modern, at Nobu and at a sentimental favorite, Rocco Ristorante on Thompson Street.
I owe Dieter K. a big thank you for a sweet footnote to my own culinary education. A few years ago I was driving him from one excellent Bay Area meal or another to his hotel, and he spied a long lineup on College Avenue. “What’s that for?” he asked me, and I said it was Ici, a store featuring handmade ice cream. “Is it good?” “Well,” I had to admit, “I’ve never tried it. The line is always too long!”
This seemed to him ridiculous in the extreme. A long line obviously meant something good at the end of it. So I pulled over and we waited as long as it took, eventually trying all the flavors on offer (favorites: cardamom rose, brandied cherry, salty caramel). It was Dieter’s treat in more ways than one: nowadays (or, more often, nowanights), if I’m driving on College Avenue, usually homewards after seeing a movie at the Pacific Film Archive, I feel the irresistible pull of Ici. And I yield to it. I had a delicious orange chocolate chip cone dusted with a crystallized orange peel add-on only last night.
My enthusiasm for both Dieter and Ici’s elegant ice creams led to a classic “open mouth, insert foot” moment when I recently interviewed Alice Waters about Chez Panisse’s upcoming 40th anniversary. Waters, a frequenter of the Berlinale and the Culinary Cinema, was the first-ever chef invited to be part of a major film festival jury – in 2009, headed by Tilda Swinton at the Berlinale. And, of course, her restaurant is famously named for a character in Marcel Pagnol’s famous Marseille-set trilogy. When Alice mentioned that Kosslick would be attending the Chez P. anniversary festivities the weekend of August 26-28, I told her the story of him insisting we stand in line at Ici. “Have you ever been there?,” I asked, casually. “Well,” Alice said, “she was my pastry chef for nine years.”