A celebration of food on film

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With the Academy Awards celebrating its 90th anniversary when the annual Oscars ceremony takes place this week, we pick some of the best movies to feature food

Babette’s Feast
A mouth-watering celebration of fine food on screen if ever there was one. French refugee Babette Hersant arrives in a small, remote 19th century Danish village where two sisters take her in and she agrees to work as their servant. When she wins the French lottery and finds herself 10,000 francs richer, she offers to cook a French meal for them and other members of the community. Unbeknown to the sisters, Babette has a past as the head chef of Café Anglais in Paris and the big feast turns out to be an incredible experience for the diners and unforgettable for the viewers. The film was directed by Gabriel Axel and rewarded with the Oscar for best foreign language film in 1988.


Mystic Pizza
Teenage girls Kat, Daisy and Jojo work the summer break at a pizza parlor in the coastal town of Mystic, Connecticut. Owner Leona is known for making the best pizza in the area, but Mystic Pizza is still mainly frequented by tourists and local guests. In an effort to attract more clientele the girls invite critic Hector Freshette, also known as the Fireside Gourmet, to visit. The critic duly turns up and orders a house special. The girls, Leona and kitchen staff watch as he studies and sniffs the pie – to their astonishment he leaves after eating just one slice. When the review is in, he calls the atmosphere rustic, the service over solicitous but then this: “I am not a pizza person, but this pizza is – in a word: superb.” The Fireside Gourmet’s top rating of four stars to Mystic Pizza in Mystic, Connecticut, sets the phone ringing before he has finished speaking on screen. An early testament to the power of a good review.


From scenes of impromptu home-cooked dinners by Tommy’s mother to prison meals featuring lobster and steaks, Goodfellas puts food front and center alongside the wise guys. The prison cooking scene in particular sees the mobsters in their element. From Paulie cutting slices of garlic with a razor blade (“so thin they liquefy with just a little bit of oil”) to Vinnie preparing the tomato sauce (“they used too many onions, but it was still very good”). Henry, played by Ray Liotta, gives insight into the bounty of ingredients available to the mob. As Henry says, “We lived alone, we owned the joint.”


Julie and Julia
Following the true stories of Julia Child and Julie Powell, separated by time and space. Child is a diplomat’s wife in Paris who discovers her passion for cooking when attending lessons at Le Cordon Bleu in 1949. Powell is an aspiring writer in New York City who starts a blog documenting her year-long quest to cook all 524 recipes in a book by the, by now, acclaimed chef Julia Child.
Julie and Julia is packed with hunger-inducing food scenes, from boeuf bourguignon and lobster thermidor to apple tart to chocolate cake. Meryl Streep as Child and AmyAdams as Powell show comfortable chef skills as they master the tricks of advanced cuisine. There are too many food highlights to pick from, but a scene showing Child, her husband and a friend devouring cheese is pretty special. And it comes with a lesson in making beurre blanc.


If Mystic Pizza shows how a restaurant reached a wider audience in the 1980s, Chef is an update on this as it depicts how the advance of social media has helped restaurants and operators. Our hero in this 2014 movie is Carl Casper, a celebrated but ultimately unsatisfied head chef who feels his creativity is stifled in the strict setting of the kitchen. A vitriolic newspaper review of his food sets in motion a chain of events, which sees him sacked from the restaurant kitchen and eventually the proud owner of a run-down food truck. On a road-trip across the US he rediscovers his gastronomic passion and happiness. A growing group of fans and followers find him, where else, on Twitter. The movie is about finding your way to happiness and food takes center stage in Casper’s life as shown in the scene early in the movie when he lovingly prepares a grilled cheese sandwich for his son.


The Trip
When Steve Coogan is invited by The Observer newspaper to travel around the UK’s Yorkshire Dales and Lake District reviewing restaurants he struggles to find a companion after his girlfriend drops out. So he invites his friend Rob Brydon. The film is ostensibly about two middle-aged men (loosely playing themselves), bickering, discussing life’s challenges, doing impersonations of Sean Connery, Michael Caine and other famous people while enjoying delicious food. For the two road trippers the journey turns into a long feast of extravagant meat and fish, fine wines and intricately crafted dishes. Travelogue and foodie extravaganza rolled into one, the film – an extension of the TV series – is an amusing peek into the world of Steve and Rob, with wonderful food thrown in.

Tina Nielsen

Photos: Rex Features, Alamy