Food Tells a Story of Love

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"I loved to cook, so I cooked. And then cooking became a way of saying I love you. And then cooking became the easy way of saying I love you. And then cooking became the only way of saying I love you." - Nora Ephron, Heartburn*

Inspiration comes from all around. My love of food isn't just from my own experience. I'm also moved by other people sharing their love for food. For a heaping dish of inspiration, I turn to the movies.

I like to watch movies in the studio. Or, more accurately, I like to listen to movies via headphones while I work. There's a part of my brain - you know, the little voice that whispers that everything you do is crap and you should probably give up forever? Yeah, I need that part to take a seat while my good creative stuff is flowing. A little background narrative is a great place to park the verbal critic so I can create in peace.

However, some movies demand my full attention. And not just my eyes and ears. They take over my tastebuds, too.

What makes a good food movie? It's not just pretty shots of sumptuous dishes. Food tells a story of love. Love of craft, love of nature, love of color and texture and flavor, and the way we take these things in with all of our senses. We use food to show love, and a good food story does too.

It also makes us hungry. So here, in no particular order, is a list of movies that I absolutely cannot play while I'm working. Because of the drool.

Links point to the films' entries on IMDB.

Chef (2014) This movie is a love song to the Cuban sandwich. Ham, pork, cheese, mustard, pickles, butter, bread. Also, follow your dreams and that stuff.

"Okay well my credit cards are maxed out and we're not charging for food yet so we're gonna have to wait on the sound system."

"Yeah, but you look happy, baby, don't you?"

"So happy. So happy."

Chocolat (2000) It's not all sticky sweets in this quaint French village. Raw cacao beans? Ground chile pepper? Roasted rabbit with chocolate mole? Seconds, please. And while we're in France...

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) What happens when Too French and Not French Enough become neighbors.

"Now, last night, we served this. Miserable, overcooked asparagus. In this restaurant, the cuisine is not an old, tired marriage. It is a passionate affair of the heart!"

Ratatouille (2007) I'm now realizing how heavily my list skews French. We're not even done.

"How do you tell how good bread is without tasting it? Not the smell, not the look, but the sound of the crust. Listen. A symphony of crackle. Only great bread sound this way."

Babette's Feast (1987) Classical French cuisine ventures out to the austere reaches of Denmark. Food so rich you'll feel a little ashamed of watching people eat it.

The Lunch Box (2013) Have you heard of the dabbawalas of Mumbai? They use a meal delivery system so complex and accurate that the Harvard Business School marvels at how well it works. Until one day it doesn't.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) The world is so big that it seems hard to believe that anyone could be the best at something. But here's Jiro. Not to mention Jiro's rice dealer, who only sells his best grains to Jiro because no one else in the world can cook them as well. And don't get me started on the omelettes.

Julie & Julia (2009) And we're back in France. Does anyone in the world love their cuisine as much as the French do? Maybe they deserve it.

"Every time you taste something that's delicious beyond imagining, and you say, 'what is in this?' The answer is always going to be 'butter.'"

*I recently read Heartburn for the first time, loved it, and can't wait to see the movie. I have a feeling it will land on this list with a bullet. Ephron also wrote the screenplay for Julie & Julia.

Honorable Mention: anything directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Spirited Away, Ponyo, Kiki's Delivery Service, Howl's Moving Castle, and so on. Every Miyazaki film has at least one spectacular food scene in it. It's practically its own subgenre. Here's a starter kit.

These are my favorites, and there are plenty of food movies I haven't seen yet. What should I taste-test next?


Guests In The Kitchen

Tuna Steaks. Acrylic on unstretched canvas, 30 x 30 inches by Sarah Atlee.Tuna Steaks. Acrylic on unstretched canvas, 30 x 30 inches by Sarah Atlee.

As you might imagine, I take a lot of food photos. A few of them turn into paintings. The piece you see here is from a wonderful meal cooked in someone else's kitchen, where my companion was housesitting.

It's a strange thing to try and find your way around an unfamiliar kitchen - it's that feeling of being slightly off-balance. It's also a great opportunity to compose a food photo using something other than your usual props. In this instance, I had access to a chartreuse cutting board and a very nice chef's knife. Not to mention these beautiful tuna steaks.

My perspective on tuna changed completely after seeing Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a fascinating look into the process of one of the world's great sushi chefs, Jiro Ono. Have a look at this clip to see how the tuna market has changed over the years:

How did our meal turn out? Beautifully! See for yourself:

Tuna steak, cooked, with heirloom tomatoes

Tuna steak with sauteed shrimp, green beans, and homemade guacamole

See Tuna Steaks in Person

Tuna Steaks will be available for purchase in February 2015 at Ro2 Art in Dallas. Join us at For Real featuring Sarah Atlee and James Zamora. Contact Ro2 Art for more details.

UPDATE: For Real has been reviewed by Jenny Block for The Huffington Post! Read the full review here: "A Hyperrealism That Questions Reality With James Zamora and Sarah Atlee at RO2 Art"

Ryan: Animated Short by Chris Landreth

(Thank you, Drawn!) Friends, I've just seen something, and you should see it too. Do you know the feeling that rises, when you're reading or watching or hearing something, and your sense of time slows, your muscles fill with cooling gel, and you think, "Oh my God, this is important"? I watched this film and sort of felt my world turn a corner. Still from the short film 'Ryan' by Chris Landreth

Still from Ryan, an animated film by Chris Landreth.

Not only does Landreth use his medium for purposeful and poetic storytelling, but he portrays strikingly accurate visual representations of love and addiction. Watch the film online at the YouTube Screening Room.

Read more about the film here. Read more about Ryan Larkin here.

Art 365 Documentary Preview Online

As part of the year-long Art 365 process, filmmakers Melissa Scaramucci and Cacky Poarch produced a documentary film about the seven artists. You can see a 15-minute preview online at Google Video. If you're new to Art 365, this is a great introduction. The film premiered in its entirety at the Art 365 opening in Tulsa last month. There will also be a screening in Oklahoma City on July 3rd.

Click here to read more about Normal, OK, my series for Art 365.

Related: Sonarta also has footage of the Art 365 process. Part 1 is below; here are parts two, three, and four.