Thursday, February 2, 2012

the story so far..... (updated)

A year ago, because I was getting a little attention thanks to an article in USA Today, I decided that six months into this adventure I should write something for people coming to this site for the first time. And now I've decided to update that post.

If you walk up to a stranger, pretty much anywhere in the world, and ask them two questions: “Do you like food?” and “Do you like movies?” The majority of them would answer yes to both. Eating and watching movies have a lot in common. Maybe that’s why they go so well together. No matter where in the world you find a movie theater, there's someone selling some kind of food to munch on when the lights go down. And there's nothing like snuggling up with a good movie and a home-cooked meal. This is the basic concept of Chef du Cinema – pairing great movies with great food.

I call it an adventure because that's what it is for me, and should be for you. Almost a decade ago, I decided I wanted to really learn how to cook and began taking classes at Central Market's Cooking School here in Austin. Over the course of time, I was fortunate enough to learn from not just local, but also world-class chefs, including Martin Yan, Michel Richard, Bobby Flay, Diana Kennedy, Rick Bayless, Marie Simmons, and Madhur Jaffrey, amongst many others passing through on book tours. Eventually, the school's manager asked if I'd be interested in teaching. So I tried my hand at it, pairing cooking classes with trips I'd take, showing slides from my trip, discussing the local culture, while demonstrating a 4-course meal.

About two years ago, the school suggested I come up with something new to attract new students. Having been involved in the entertainment industry for most of my life, it was suggested I do “cooking and a movie.” Well, that all seemed way too obvious and had me thinking back on that television show where they'd pair a movie with a completely unrelated recipe other than a cute name like “Kathleen Turnovers” (this is an actual dish from that show). But the more I thought about it, it seemed if I was going to do this, the food should really have a direct connection to the movie. And that it would be an opportunity to share both my love for film and my love for cooking.

So, I'm not a chef. Chefs wear hats. I'm just a guy who likes to cook.

With that in mind, I came up with some simple, basic, and completely self-imposed rules for this adventure. The first is that there were movies I would not consider. Why? Again – avoid the obvious, like your basic "foodie movies." No Water for Chocolate. No Big Night. I have a list here, which is by no means definitive. If you're interested in these kinds of food-related films, here's a book for you. But barring that there were no rules nor master plan in my choosing the movies to be considered. Whatever strikes my fancy at the moment. So in no way should these be considered my top favorites, the most important films, or anything like that. Some I just knew I wanted to include. Some were chosen because I had an awesome recipe to pair with it. Some just happened to be showing on television one night. But again, they are all movies I love.

The other self-imposed rule was that the dish(es) paired be conceived by three simple criteria. The first, a recipe of something eaten or discussed in the movie. The second could be a celebrity recipe from someone involved in the film – the actor, the director, etc. The third is a dish relating to or riffing on the theme or location of the film. For example, Casablanca (my first class) gets paired with a Moroccan Beet & Yogurt Dip. Singin' in the Rain features Gene Kelly's Irish Lamb Stew recipe. And in North by Northwest there is scene where Cary Grant & Eva Marie Saint are in a dining car of a train and order brook trout for dinner. So it would be awfully easy to just broil some trout. Yup, too obvious. However, earlier in the film, Grant is forced to drink an entire bottle of bourbon. What I wound up making is a Bourbon Cured Smoked Trout appetizer. See how that works?

In the classes, I not only demonstrate how to cook the meal, but discuss the making of, trivia about, and other facts to enhance the viewing of the film. Then we serve the meal and watch the movie. I had so much fun teaching the first class that I decided to chronicle more adventures in a blog where, instead of a 4-course meal for the classes, I would just offer one recipe to go with a new movie every few weeks. While the classes are skewed towards more popular movies, the blog is a place where I can explore movies I like but may not have broad enough appeal for a class. Also, you'll note lots of links within the posts which will either take you to the source of the quote or information I'm imparting in the post, or to some further information I think you might find interesting.

From the start, I divided the information to be discussed in class into three categories:

THE MOVIE, wherein I include anecdotes, interviews, and other material relating to the making of the movie, the actors, the director, the production, etc.;

BACKGROUND & CONTEXT, the section I most enjoy because I can pretty much rant about anything related to the movie. For example, in the first class, which as I said was Casablanca, I discussed why refugees were in Casablanca, and why they were trying to get to Lisbon. The idea is that it can be anything which offers you some insight, and enhances your viewing experience, of the movie;

THE FOOD, where I discuss things - sometimes serious, sometimes trivial - about the food I'm making and how it relates to the movie.

And so the adventure continues. I continue to teach a new class every couple of months and also contribute a column to the Criterion Collection website, picking movies from their film catalog and pairing them with a recipe. Hopefully, you will discover both wonderful movies and wonderful dishes you've never had, or revisit films you already love. Plus, what's great is the recipes all work well both as a dinner party idea with friends or for a quiet night at home.

I'll end as I always end my blog posts.... Cook, watch, eat and enjoy!

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