Now that the Oscars are heading our way, it’s time to gear up for a fantastic night of fun, surprise, sadness, happiness and, yes, sometimes anger as the winners of the highest honor in the movie business are revealed.
What better time for Between the Tines to welcome back Anthony F. Chiffolo and Rayner W. “Rusty” Hesse, Jr. (refer to the Christmas blog interview featuring their wonderful and inspirational first cookbook, Cooking with the Bible) to discuss their newest book, Cooking with the Movies: Meals on Reels?
Cooking with the Movies examines a wide spectrum of meals, incorporating various cultures and cuisines featured in fourteen movies which have appeared on the big screen that we all know and love, including Babette’s Feast, Big Night, Chocolat, Goodfellas, Tampopo, Titanic, and Tortilla Soup. Each chapter features photos, the full menu and recipes depicted in the featured film and are supported by an introduction, fun facts, and a summary in brief.
It doesn’t stop there! The authors go on to analyze the importance of foods served and how they relate to the specific storyline of the film. Information regarding film release dates, directors, writers, casts, awards, and interviews with the actors will amuse film buffs and movie enthusiasts. All in all, a lot of fun, great eating and fantastic cinematic meals you can make yourself to experience a bit of the magic of the movies first-hand.
Perhaps Anthony and Rusty would be willing to share a few favorite recipes with us after the Q and A…
BTT: With the success of Cooking with the Bible not far behind you, I know you were probably in the “cooking” groove for quite some time. How did a great idea like Cooking with the Movies come about?
AC & RH: Cooking with the Movies is, in a way, a continuation on a theme begun in Cooking with the Bible, the theme of hospitality, of “breaking bread” in community—of how food, lovingly prepared, binds friend to friend and family member to family member. It’s an ancient theme, of course, and by illustrating it with modern-day feature films such as Big Night and Chocolat, blockbuster movies like Titanic and Goodfellas, we are able to bring the idea to a broader audience, perhaps a readership that is not so religiously oriented but still has a spiritual outlook. And let’s face it, the spirituality of food has deep roots in human history and resonates very strongly in the human soul or psyche. So Cooking with the Movies might, on the surface, seem to be a distinct break from our previous work, but it’s really not, just a subtle extension of something we deeply believe in, the immense power of hospitality.
BTT: With so many great movies to choose from, how did you decide which you would feature meals from?
AC & RH: We had some important factors to keep in mind. First, we chose movies in which the food was so important that it became another “character” in the story. By that we mean that the food—what it was, the way it was prepared and served, how it was presented and talked about—revealed something about the other characters, or advanced the plot, or helped the viewer understand underlying issues or factors playing out in the story. Second, we wanted a variety of foods, so we included films that featured French, Italian, Mexican, and Japanese cuisine—some traditional fare and some ultramodern, bistro offerings. Third, we wanted to cover a broad time range—not that the movies were necessarily made over a century ago, but the eras depicted in the films ranged from the 19th century up to the present. Finally, we needed to be able to discern what foods were actually on screen, either from the way the filmmaker depicted the meals, from what directors might have said in their commentaries about their movies, from what actors might have said about the foods in interviews, or even from what other scholars might have written about the food in a given movie.
BTT: How did you research the specifics of exactly what those meals were composed of?
AC & RH: Most of all, we watched the films—over and over and over, sometimes frame by frame—to determine what was being served onscreen. After that, we delved into the various culinary traditions: so if we saw the characters barbequing sweet potatoes, for example, for a traditional Latino Thanksgiving meal, we looked into the many ways such a dish might be prepared and served, considered the alternatives, and in most cases took a little bit from this one, a little bit from that one, and created our own recipe, in this case “Barbequed Sweet Potatoes with Spicy Walnuts.” In some cases, such as the movie What’s Cooking?, the studio provided a couple of recipes on the DVD—but because these were missing ingredients or instructions, we had to adapt them anyway. In the film Dinner Rush, the waiters at the bistro recite exactly what’s on the special’s board for the night, so we could hear what each dish might have included, but we had to come up with the exact amounts of each ingredient and the process of preparing the dish. The main character of Mostly Martha, a chef at an upscale German bistro, recites one recipe from heart during the course of the movie. The meal we created for Titanic was a re-creation of the first-class meal served that fateful night, as the menu is a part of the historic record (we did discover that some of the Titanic cookbooks got it wrong!). We were lucky with two films, Goodfellas and Big Night. For Goodfellas, the real-life person on which the movie was based, Henry Hill, had written The Wise Guy Cookbook, and the director’s mother, Catherine Scorsese, had also published Italianamerican: The Scorsese Family Cookbook, which included a couple dishes she had cooked for the film itself (yes, the director called upon his own mother to prepare the meals shown in his movie!). For Big Night, we were able to refer to director Stanley Tucci’s book Cucina & Famiglia. One “special edition” DVD of Waitress included recipe cards for some of the pies shown in the movie, but circumstances (the death of the director) prevented us from quoting the recipes verbatim, and we needed to make some substitutions and alterations anyway. The book upon which Like Water for Chocolate is based, Como agua para chocolate, has some “recipes” that might have been handed down from one generation to the next—“a handful of this” or “a splash of that”—from which we could determine the ingredients but not necessarily the amounts of each. In every case, it’s important to emphasize, we needed to do some adaptations to make the recipes “friendly” for the home kitchen—after all, readers won’t have access to restaurant cooking facilities. Anyway, lots of culinary research, and then we relied upon our own kitchen experience and “intuition.”
BTT: Which movie had the toughest recipe to figure out and why?
AC & RH: There were actually two recipes that really challenged us. One was “Chocolate and Vanilla Eclairs” from Titanic: they may look simple, but creating a puffy pastry that was both hollow and pretty took many efforts, and getting the right consistency for the chocolate icing was surprisingly difficult. The other was “Pastel Chabela de Boda (Rosaura’s Wedding Cake)” from Like Water for Chocolate: the first time we did this one, we looked at the author’s description in Como agua para chocolate but didn’t realize that the conversion of flour from metric to American measures is different from the conversion of sugar and so forth, and we ended up with very flat “frittatas,” since the recipe calls for 2 dozen eggs! Certainly not suitable for a wedding cake. What to do? We cut up the frittatas into small pieces and served them with salsa; our guests never knew and, in fact, clamored for the recipe. But once we determined the correct conversion amounts, the cake was splendid.
BTT: Why do you feel that meals depicted in films are important to the context of the storyline?
AC & RH: In many of these films, the meals propel the story forward. For example, in Waitress, the main character, Jenna, expresses her feelings through her pies, whether she’s making “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby” Pie or “Falling-in-Love Chocolate Mousse” Pie or “Baby Screamin’ Its Head Off in the Middle of the Night and Ruinin’ My Life” Pie—giving the viewer further insight into the character’s emotions. In What’s Cooking? the director gives us four Thanksgiving dinners, but thanks to the ethnic character of the families, each dinner is quite different. While each family has a turkey, no two are prepared in the same way, and each family adds dishes that reflect their particular heritage: one features “Oyster and Shiitake Mushroom Stuffing” and “Moroccan Fruit Compote”; another, “Noodle Kugel” and “Roasted Polenta”; the third, “Fried Empanadas” and “Arepas de Choclo”; and finally, “Deep Fried Duck” and “Vietnamese Spring Rolls.” The most famous film we chose, Babette’s Feast, of course, centers on the French dinner that Babette lovingly prepares for her employers and their church members, a meal that provides the venue for the group to put aside their hurts and differences and rediscover the love that had brought them together in the first place. We think that each of the movies represented in Cooking with the Movies has a similar theme: the way food brings people together and helps create harmony among them; even if only for the duration of the meal, the feelings engendered can actually change lives.
BTT: Would you be willing share a few recipes from the book with us?
AC & RH:Of course!
Salmon with Mousseline Sauce and Cucumber (from Titanic)
1 c. dry white wine
2 c. water
1 stalk celery
4 bay leaves
2 tsp. dried tarragon
½ tsp. whole coriander seeds
1 tsp. black pepper
olive oil or butter
1 lg. salmon fillet
red radish, thinly sliced
3 egg yolks
2 tsp. lemon juice
¼ lb. butter, melted and boiling hot
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. Cayenne
¼ c. cream, lightly whipped
Cover the bottom of a fish poacher with the white wine and water. Chop the potato, carrot, onions, and celery into thin slices that will fit neatly and evenly under the rack. Add the herbs. Grease the rack with a bit of olive oil or butter so that the skin and fatty tissue of the fish will not stick. Place the salmon on the rack and put on the poacher lid. Cook over a medium flame, straddling two stove burners if necessary, for about 10–14 minutes, or until small cuts into the flesh prove that the inner portion of the fish is not still raw.
While the salmon is poaching, make the Mousseline sauce. Beat the egg yolks and the lemon juice together at high-speed until a pale yellow. Pour in the hot butter (it must be boiling; a microwave will quickly make it so), and add the salt and Cayenne. Cool slightly. Mix in the whipped cream a bit at a time, stirring constantly.
Prepare a large platter lined in the center with bib lettuce or some other soft, leafy green. Arrange elongated cucumber slices into a decorative shape at each end. Place the salmon on top of the lettuce and spoon the sauce down its center. Place a few thin radish slices like buttons down the length of the fish for decoration.
Yield: 8–12 servings
Barbequed Sweet Potatoes with Spicy Walnuts (from What’s Cooking?)
6 sweet potatoes
3 Tbsp. butter
¼ c. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
zest of 1 orange
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. half and half
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
Wash the potatoes (do not peel) and pierce them all over with a fork. Bake in the microwave on high for 10 minutes, then rotate and cook for a second 10 minutes.
Remove from microwave, and place in a large bowl. When the potatoes are cooled, cut each one in half. Slice the halved portions yet again in two, but do not cut all the way through.
Melt the butter in a large skillet, and add the rest of the ingredients. Cook on low for about 5 minutes until well mixed. Pour the mixture over the potatoes.
Prepare a charcoal fire outdoors. Grill the potatoes, turning frequently and brushing with the brown sugar glaze until they are tender. In a small pan, warm the remaining glaze.
Transfer potatoes to a platter. Add the spicy walnuts (see next), and spoon the glaze over the potatoes just before serving.
3 Tbsp. butter
2 c. walnut pieces
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. Cayenne
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. chili powder
3 Tbsp. bourbon
Preheat oven to 375°F. Melt butter in a skillet, and stir in all other ingredients. Cook until most of the liquid evaporates. Spoon out onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 5 minutes.
Yield: 12 servings
Pastel Chabela de Boda
(Rosaura’s Wedding Cake) (from Like Water for Chocolate)
12 whole eggs
5 egg yolks
1 c. refined granulated sugar
peel of 1 lime, grated
2½ c. cake fl our, sifted 3 times
2/3 c. dried apricot paste
¾ c. granulated sugar
4¼ c. granulated sugar
Enough water to dissolve the sugar
60 drops of lime juice
3 c. water
2-2/3 c. sugar
10 egg whites, stiffly beaten
To Prepare the Cake
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 5 egg yolks, 4 whole eggs, and the sugar in a large bowl. Beat until the mixture thickens and then add 2 more whole eggs; repeat, adding the remaining eggs 2 at a time until all the eggs have been added. When the last 2 eggs have been beaten in, beat in the grated lime peel. When the mixture has thickened, stop beating and add the sifted flour, mixing it in a little at a time with a wooden spoon until it has all been incorporated.
Finally, grease a pan with butter, dust with flour, and pour the batter into it. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
To Prepare the Filling
Heat the apricot paste together with a little bit of water; after the mixture comes to a boil, strain it, preferably through a hair or flour sieve, but a coarser strainer can be used if one doesn’t have either of those. Place the paste in a pan, add the sugar, and heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture forms a marmalade.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before spreading it on the middle layer of the cake, which, of course, has previously been sliced into 3 layers.
To Prepare the Fondant
Combine the sugar and water in a pan and heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Strain into another pan and return to the heat; add the lime juice and cook until it reaches the soft-ball stage, wiping the edge of the pan with a damp cloth periodically to prevent the sugar from crystallizing. When the mixture reaches that stage, pour into a damp pan, sprinkle with water, and allow to cool slightly.
After it cools, beat with a wooden spoon until creamy. To ice the cake, add 1 tablespoon of milk to the fondant, heat until it softens, add a drop of red food coloring, and frost only the top part of the cake with the fondant icing.
To Prepare the Meringue
Boil the sugar and the water until the syrup reaches the coarse-thread stage. Pour slowly onto the egg whites and beat until smooth and stiff enough to spread easily. Frost the sides of the cake with the meringue icing.
Yield: 12–16 servings
What a great menu to prepare for Oscar night! I am overwhelmed by these recipes and I can’t wait to try them!!!
Once again, my special thanks to Anthony and Rusty for allowing me to interview them.
For more information and to order this must-have cookbook, click on the link: www.cookingwiththemovies.com.
Look for an interview with the authors in USA TODAY that appeared in the 2/23/11 issue.
In closing, I don’t know about you, but if the ship is going down, I say LET’S EAT!
The Big Tine