Becoming a Chef, through Film.
"If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff" This is a quote by Remy the rat, Remy the chef, within the first four minutes of "Ratatouille". Heres a fun fact, my love for that movie is actually how I learned to spell Ratatouille, with full confidence, and I am a terrible speller.
"Only the fearless can be great." Another lesson of many by Chef Gusto, of the same film. Yet I am full of fear at times. I wanted to share three films that at one point in time inspired me to become a chef. Even though currently I am not a "chef" in regards to my career in the food industry, I will call myself that, along with Recipe Developer and Tester, Food Writer, and Food Stylist, oh, and Photographer. These are each things that I have been lucky enough to do the past few years, and even get paid for.
I knew early on that I needed to commit to jobs in my life doing things I love. I considered a career in Fashion, but was worried I would run dry of ideas. A career in Writing, but again fear struck me with the possibility of one day having nothing to write. When I was a kid I was obsessed with architecture, but gave up on that once I discovered how much math was involved. Even one in interior design, but I thought, "what if they hate my style?". Finally a career in Cooking. I loved Cooking, was never bored of it, and I knew it would never bore me. I wanted every meal I ever ate, from that day forward to make me say "yum" with every bite. So the food industry it was.
I could probably make a list of films and shows that could have inspired every other path not chosen, but I was lucky enough to be right on my first try. the other roads I have not yet been able to pursue, I still expect to, in their own time.
This first film is one that you might not expect. 2006, staring Queen Latifah, Last Holiday. A kind of Rom-Com, but the romance hangs out on the back burner, as a woman discovers the meaning of her own life, and risking every dollar she's ever earned, and completing the bucket list before it's too late. In 2006 I was 10. This was the first time I saw food, and the food industry as something exciting and dare I say, glamorous, prestigious is probably a better word. I saw it recently on a streaming service for the first time, since highschool, so about 5-9 years ago. It was not as food focused as I remembered it being, but she did have a passion for food, and SPOILER ALERT, she does become a chef and opens the bistro she's always dreamed of. She would watch Emeril, everyday after work (I have actually never once since an epiosde of his show before) and cook along with him, this being what I picture to be a modern day Julia Child relationship, the first TV chef. But she would never eat the dishes she would cook, and she fed her neighbor instead. The book of possibilities is an important moment for the story, and in it she keeps a scrapbook, photos, recipes, and pamphlets of places she would like to go to, things to see and eat, and someone to marry. I won't break down every scene, but as the movie progresses, she's on her flight to the Grand Hotel Pupp, she argues with a stewardess with an anti-big-corportate-airline speech, and upgrades to the First Class "cocoon"(and I've called first class seats "cocoons" ever since), where she's treated to glasses of champagne and delicious looking movie prop food. This is the moment where she first accepts that she can no longer sit and say okay to those around her. She will say no, and speak her mind. The film awoke passion in me for food and international travel, it was lighthearted but meaningful.
She has a "Pretty Woman" style shopping spree, and later glides to dinner in a gorgeous red gown. Alone at a table for four, she orders the chefs specials, all of his specials, about 6 of them, no substitutions. My first peek into a professional kitchen, as the chef yells out the orders to everyone. Later in the movie, she helps the chef prepare the dinner for the new years eve celebration, in a few close up action shots of food being tossed around in pans and the sizzles, slicing of vegetables to be stuffed into a fish.
The film ends with her back in Louisiana, with her soon to be husband at the opening of her Bistro, with you guessed it, Chef Emeril making an appearance. I thought more consciously about spontaneity, and hunger does not always mean you need to eat, but often to discover. While food and the art of being a chef was not the theme of the film, the protagonist herself was a chef, and a lover of the art and it showed, to me at least, a new world that is the food industry. You should watch it.
I am sure you can now assume the next film that inspired me based on the reference I gave at the beginning of the post. Ratatouille, trust me I spelled that right the first try. Now this film is all about food, from the moment it starts until the very last scene. A rat, that loves to cook, works in a kitchen, an obvious case of irony there. And how can someone not love the scene where Remy and his brother eat the strawberry and cheese, with fireworks going off in the background, it's the most delicious scene of the whole film. Every time i see it, I crave cheese and strawberries. I used a line said by Ego as the basis of my College essay, for Culinary School. "I dont like food, I love it. If I don't love it, I don't swallow" And that line changed how I thought about food. About TVs portrayal of eating everything in sight, or even of eating everything on my plate. So in my essay, I wrote about that line. I said I never again wanted to like my meal, I wanted to love every bite of it. I'm sure it was obvious that Anton Egos office, is in the shape of a coffin, possibly to symbolize a place where restaurants die, or even that Ego himself is dead, no sense of life for the food he writes about. But he's brought back to life, with Remys Ratatouille. Food holds memory, like scents, or the weather. With one bite, he was a child again, and I wanted the same for myself.
Chef Thomas Keller actually created the recipe and idea of the Ratatouille that is interpreted in the film, traditionally Ratatouille is very much rustic, and not as artistic as Remys. In culinary school years later, I learned about Chef Keller, never having heard of him before, and only recently was it that I discovered his hand in the creation of this memorable scene of the film. It is even said that Remy has a Keller way about him.
These movies all have a character lost in the world, lost in routine, in a search for discovery, on persuing their true passion. Remy knows what he loves, but he feels that he does not belong, obviously being a rat in the kitchen. Simply, someone that does not belong in this world, and even sometimes you need to let get total credit for your work and talent, to live the dream you have, of course, in the real world, that person might continue to take credit for all that you do and you will never get the recognition you deserved.
Ratatouille is almost a coming of age film, he says himself that "the bird must leave the nest". Separated from his family, he must find his own way, he as I, were lucky the first time around, and found an art form we could excel at. With many obstacles in the way, each one is overcome, even with the loss of a restaurant, a new opportunity does come, as does Remys. And the rat is no longer just a rat, but he is a Chef, that found success through his love for food, doing it his way.
JULIE AND JULIA
Our journey of films in France is not over yet. However now we will be splitting our time between France, and New York City. Julie And Julia, a 2009 release, based on two true stories. If there was a story to inspire you about food, it is this one, because these events actually happened. With it being the year 2020, this almost feels like a period film, 1948, and 2002. you can see the difference in life and style, that just 18 years ago has compared to today. The most gorgeous portrayl of the cooking process, as it even goes to the very start of cooking, the protagonists gaining a passion for cooking while trying to discover a purpose for their life. Now I never read Julies blog or book, but I have read some reviews on it. She allegedly complains often, and surprisingly rarely talks about the food, or cooking, which would be why the real life Julia Child did not like her. But I appreciate the movie version of her better, I had fallen in love with both characters, the directors interpretation of Julie, does talk about Julia and the food, and the process of food, and even how sometimes the pressures and stresses of real life fall into your work. Even when you are cooking, and a fight with your husband can lead to messing up every recipe for a week.
I have been inspired by this movie since the first time I saw it at about 13. I have always felt a loss, and soemthing missing in myself, and felt my life would be filled with journeys of self discovery, and that is what both of these woman have. The film starts with both woman moving to a new place, and while both their husbands have their jobs, these woman are looking at their lives and wondering what should come next in their lives. And I guess since I was 13, I've been looking for whats next. What is going to ignite a new passion for life? I found a relatability with Julie, a person who feels often that they have given up, or have not achieved yet what they thought they would. She lies on the floor of her kitchen as something else has again gone wrong, and she cries. I have often had moments like that, where even if you are following a recipe step by step, it is you that is wrong. I compare myself to others, it is that constant comparison that can lead to moments like these, if even the slightest thing goes wrong. Motivation is lost for at least a few days, and it does take courage to start again. Reading "My Life In France" I'm a little bored by Julia Childs story on paper, it comes to life on screen, in a way that I, someone witnessing it for the first time and never having heard of her, can fall in love with a country. It may just be the style of writing, I was more intrigued by Anthony Bourdains retelling of the beginning of his career, "Kitchen Confidential", but he did say that some parts may have been exaggerated. Either way, I have read her book, and recommend it if you haven't read it yet, it may inspire you more than the film might have. Overall the story is about a Chef, and a Writer and the parallels in their lives. I saved the best for last, as I think looking at each of these individually, this one relates the most to me, and the journeys I have gone through thinking back about my life. If you love food, you need to see this one.
I have one short honorable mention, another based on a true story film "Eat Pray Love" contributed to my love for spontaneous world travel, and lots and lots and lots of Italian food. Long story short, when I was 18, I packed a car up and drove with my family from South Florida, to upstate New York, a city called Poughkeepsie, and all I could think about was the "Friends" episode "The One With The Girl From Poughkeepsie" There I attended culinary school, and with zero knowledge about food, or the food industry, was thrown into a world like no other, a world where being yelled at is normality and for your own benefit, where you're let to fail but not shown your mistakes, and an intense silent competition between students of who can be better than the next. Something these movies did not warn me of. Even when I left I was judged for not staying in kitchens, cooking for service, and working past midnight. I found my space in the food industry working in media. There is more than the kitchen, there's Magazines, Books, TV, Hotels, YouTube, Blogs.. Travel, Travel, and Travel. The dinner service can't offer me that. I am insprired by all forms of art. These films inspired me and moved me. They may not be Oscar winners, the protagonist may be a rodent, and the autobiographical novels may not be my favorite, but what they have in common is this, a passion for food, a need to travel the world, and being fearless when it comes to the scariest of journeys, discovering yourself. So, I am, a Chef, but I am also a Writer, as well as an Artist, I am a curator of beautiful things, and I will continue to be many things, and practice many forms, all at once, until the day that I can no longer create.