Whenever we think of fancy foods, we invariably think of a night on the town. All dressed up, valet parking, candle-lit tables. So often, the expensive delicacies of foreign foods have made themselves exclusive to high-end restaurants. The epitome of these fancy foreign foods is that of the French. And even though most of the food we immediately think of as being French is somewhat gross (that is: frog legs, escargot, etc.) it still maintains its delicacy status. And yet, food is food. If it can be made in a restaurant, there is a likelihood that it can be made at home as well. After all, a chef would only need the same ingredients and cooking equipment in order to replicate the recipe, no matter the location. This week’s two films look at some French cooking outside the confines of snooty restaurants.
Julie & Julia
Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours
I am certain that no one would argue with me for saying that Julia Child brought French cooking into our homes. The simple fact of the matter is that with a cookbook, anyone can create the recipes that lie within (through a faithful application of culinary science). For a long time, there was a disparity between the chefs of restaurant fame and the humble housewife. This can be attributed to the lack of knowledge on the part of the housewife, which Julia Child remedied by the publication of her most famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Since cooking (especially French cooking) is an art, one would only need to know its secrets in order to be able to serve up the delectable dishes to friends and family. Because, when it comes down to it, when a difficult meal is successfully prepared, chefs and housewives alike feel accomplished upon its completion.
Julie Powell (Amy Adams) and Julia Child (Meryl Streep) are bored. Both are tied down to lives that they find unfulfilling. While Julie struggles with her writing while working a dead-end job, Julia is trying to figure out what to do with her time as her husband works as a diplomat in Paris. When Julie’s husband suggests that she blog about one of her favorite hobbies, cooking, she gets the idea to cook all 534 recipes from Julia Child’s cookbook in one year. Similarly, when Julia enrolls in the Cordon Bleu cooking school, she enters into a male-dominated career path that is far out of touch with the average homemaker. As a result, Julia determines to show the men a thing or two and sets out to create the aforementioned cookbook that will bring French cooking to a level understandable to everyone.
Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours
Let’s face it: peasants don’t have many options when it comes to cooking. Most of the time the ingredients that you have to make a dinner come from materials you’ve collected yourself. Simple grains and occasional dairy would accompany any fruits or vegetables that might be growing nearby, and that’s for the lucky peasants. If they can scrounge up enough money to buy some poultry or are lucky enough to catch a fish in a nearby stream, they can have a feast! And yet, a century before Julia Child could bring the secrets of French cooking to everyone, most peasants did not have the opportunity to eat the culinary crème-de-la-crème that is French cooking. And that’s just considering French peasants. If you’re a peasant from somewhere like, say Denmark, your chances of experiencing French cuisine are slim to none.
Babette’s Feast was the winner of the 1988 Best Foreign Film Oscar and is a story of selfless sacrifice and generosity. A small Danish village is best known for the two unmarried daughters of the prominent Protestant pastor. It’s not that they are ugly, as both have been proposed to, but rather that they want to stay with their father. Many years after their prime, a refugee by the name of Babette (Stéphane Audran) comes to the village and offers to serve the daughters based on a connection to one of their former suitors. As a memorial to their since deceased father, the daughters want to have a feast, of which Babette convinces them to let her cook. There is much preparation needed for this important event and Babette pulls out all the stops to show her gratitude to the village and the daughters for their kindness.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 French feasts