Chefs comment on Ratatouille and Bourdain calls it The Best Food Movie Ever Made.
Last weekend Chef Pardus called me to say if I didn’t take my kids that very weekend to Ratatouille, I was a loser. This from the same guy who called me a wuss because I didn’t want to drive 30 miles through a blizzard to make a bechamel sauce. I tend to listen to him. He said, “Ratatouille gets it, it totally gets chef culture.” The reason for his delight is first that chef culture is important to him and second that it’s almost never gotten right. Spanglish is the perfect example of a movie’s not getting it right or even wanting to try--a fiasco. Verdict is still out on the dubiously named No Reservations, remade from the excellent Mostly Martha (but even Zeta-Jones will not surpass Colette, the Ratatouille love interest, and surely the hottest line cook on film ever).
Ratatouille does get the ethos of the kitchen and the strange strivings of the cook exactly right (mainly embodied and described by Colette). There’s a single error that I can see, one noted in an email to me by bob del grosso: the little rat chef reveals himself as a talented cook not just by fixing a soup completely ruined by the main human character, Linguini, but by making it somehow ethereal. An impossibility as any cook knows, especially as over salting appears to have been one of the problems. But that single glitch aside, the movie is a paean to passionate cooking and a moving description of the professional kitchen.
Bob wrote, “the movie was brilliant and so affective that I came away feeling like a schmuck that a rat could cook so much better than I. I actually wept a bit during a scene when the evil food critic eats the rat's (Keller's I'll bet) ratatouille”
Indeed it’s a powerful scene and follows Keller’s main philosophy of cooking: that inspiration comes from connecting food with our past. That’s the message when the food critic, brilliantly voiced by Peter O’Toole, has the dish of the movie’s title. I haven’t talked to Keller about it, but it’s his dish—a version of the byaldi in The French Laundry Cookbook, a great recipe and technique, accessible to any home cook.
Bourdain was sequestered in a darkened theater a couple years ago and grilled for insider dope on the cook’s life, for which he was paid a few hundred bucks. He saw it last week:
"I think it's quite simply the best food movie ever made,” Tony wrote today in an email. “The best restaurant movie ever made--the best chef movie. The tiny details are astonishing: The faded burns on the cooks' wrists. The "personal histories" of the cooks...the attention paid to the food...And the Anton Ego ratatouille epiphany hit me like a punch in the chest--literally breathtaking. I saw it in a theater entirely full with adults--and the reaction to that moment was what movie making was once--a long time ago--all about: Audible surprise, delight, awe and even a measure of enlightenment. I am hugely and disproportionately proud that my miniscule contribution (if any) early early in the project's development led to a "thank you" in the credits. Amazing how much they got "right."
My favorite moment, and perhaps the most important moment of the film, is the critic’s embrace of the dish and the epiphany that even the critic's finest work, cannot hold up to the worst trash by an artist. This critic acknowledges, as so few do, that simply striving for art is harder, more courageous, more valuable, than all the efforts of the best critic working at the height of his or her powers.
Maybe this is why the critic AO Scott, reviewing the movie for the NYTimes, claimed the movie delivered “one of the most persuasive portraits of the artist ever committed to film.”
But the bottom line is this. Ratatouille succeeds because it tells a true story, yes a portrait of the artist, but more important, to me anyway, the first movie ever to get the culture of the kitchen meaningfully and accurately into its story.