By James Page
Babette’s Feast (1988)
You may not have heard of it. Babette’s Feast is a Danish feature that centres around sisters Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kjer). The pair, on their way to becoming spinsters under the watchful eye of their strict pastor father, are all of a sudden joined by Parisian refugee Babette (Stephane Audran). Babette begins to work as the new family cook and prepares a sumptuous feast which subsequently drives a dagger through the family’s prior tensions.
Rarely does a film centre around a lavish feast yet deliver such a character-driven narrative. It’s so simple, yet so magnificently crafted. The idea that food can deconstruct old narratives and form new ones is crystal clear and so relatable, even in 2020. The character development, notably that of Martine and Philippa, is stunning. Prior to Babette’s arrival, the pair regarded food as something plain and simple. But afterwards, they become open to acknowledging that it can be more than just a necessary supplement for growth and health.
This film is in Danish and I understand that a lot of people can’t be bothered with foreign films. But foreign cinema is honestly some of the best cinema we have. Just look at how Parasite performed at the Oscars a couple of weeks back. As director Bong Joon-ho mentioned, once you can get past the one inch barrier of subtitles, you open up a ton of great films.
Babette’s Feast won Best Foreign Language Feature Film at the 1988 Academy Awards, becoming Denmark’s first-ever Oscar victory.
It’s Alive! with Brad Leone (2016-present)
Welcome to the whimsical world of the Bon Appetit test kitchen. It’s Alive follows our host, the cheerful and charmingly chaotic Brad Leone, as he navigates the waters of fermentation in this addictive web series. (You can watch on YouTube or on Bon Appetit’s website.)
Fermentation? What even is it? Brad demonstrates it all with DIY kombucha, miso, jerky, mustard and so much more. Each episode is between 10-30 minutes so it’s all super binge-able and is ingeniously edited. Seriously, HALF of the exposition is down to the editor. It’s incredible.
The greatest thing about It’s Alive! is the throughline that runs through the series. Brad, in his own clumsy way, reminds us that it’s okay to mess up sometimes. He reminds us that cooking doesn’t have to be scary and serious. He reminds us that if you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world.
Brad’s chaotic and fun approach to cooking is inspiring - you should really give this show a go and you’ll feel the urge to mad-scientist yourself some home-made kombucha at the end of it.
Super Size Me (2004)
Super Size Me is Morgan Spurlock’s social experiment that looks at the gastronomy of fast food and sees him eat nothing other than McDonald’s for an entire month. To scientifically support his findings, he tracks his weight, heart, energy levels and more. Unsurprisingly, the effects are terrifying.
It was such a woke documentary for 2004. Aside from demonstrating the devasting effects fast food can have on the human body, it pokes holes in the indoctrination of young people through advertising and the contribution these chains have to America’s obesity issues that are still particularly prevalent today.
But the documentary was merely a blip in the movement to cut down fast food consumption. Sixteen years later, fast food joints are still well, well above water. In a time of plant-based movements and climate change activists, it is a surprise that these chains still exist. Perhaps as these movements become stronger the chains will become weaker?
Obviously. 2007’s five-time Oscar-nominated animation Ratatouille. How could I not? It would be so rude of me not to. And yes, I know what you’re thinking. It really has been 13 whole years since that little guy gave us a completely different perception of what a country rat really is and how tense a Parisian kitchen can be.
The animation follows Remy (Patton Oswald), a country rat who yearns to become one of the best chefs in Paris. The thing is, Remy is actually really great. He’s got a great fucking taste for cuisine. So, when he meets Linguini (Lou Romano), recently employed at (top chef) Auguste Gusteau’s restaurant, the pair devise a cunning plan to bring to light Remy’s true culinary skills. Because, you know, they generally don’t let rats cook, let alone wander around in a kitchen.
But that’s the beauty of Ratatouille and Pixar films in general. These boundless ends of creativity and originality are handed to audiences year in and year out. The film delivers poignant characterisation and shifting narratives which both delight and destroy us as the viewer. Notably, the relationship between Remy and Linguini, which acts a metaphor for being trapped in a body that society won’t accept. Still relevant? Yep.
But I guess the overarching theme to this beautiful animation is that, yes, ANYONE can cook.
Out of the five nominations Ratatouille scored at the Academy Awards, it took home the award for Best Animated Feature Film.