Monday, July 16, 2007

Hollywood Goes Back To the Kitchen: Ratatouille

“Have you seen Ratatouille?” That’s how my conversations have started for the last two weeks since the movie about a rat-chef in Paris came to theatres. Here is the answer for all of you. Yes. I have seen it. Yes. I loved it.

For my readers who haven’t seen this movie yet, Ratatouille is about an unusual rat in the French countryside who longs to live his dream of being a great restaurant chef in Paris. Events transpire in the luckiest and unluckiest of ways, and he gets his wish. It’s a hilarious and touching Pixar film about how by small means, great things can happen if you just have a little faith in yourself and your friends. Spend the $9 and go see it.

The thing that impressed me about Ratatouille was not the storyline (predictable as it was), or the humor (a typical Pixar mix of adult themes and Stooges-esque slapstick CG antics) – it was the accuracy and delicate nuances of restaurant kitchens that they magically captured. The restaurant kitchen is a highly complex and fluid environment. When one works in a restaurant kitchen for an extended period of time, one develops what Bill Buford, author of Heat, calls the “kitchen sense.” You become finely attuned to the way things move, smell, and feel in the kitchen and eventually become an integral part of the whole. The restaurant kitchen is a living thing, the cooks are its organs, and together, we create a separate entity – fuller, richer, and more complete than the sum its parts. Ratatouille did so much to portray this. The smallest details – the dish machine, the call of “coming down the line!!” in the background, the stacks of eggs on the pastry station – it was all so tangible that it made going to work the next day like stepping back into the movie.

Of course we all have our favorite parts of the movie. The best line, of course is when Remy says to his brother, “You don’t know what it is…and you’re going to EAT IT!? You can’t just HORK it down!” Perfect. I have to remind myself to not hork down the gorgeous plum-glazed lamb shank I plan on eating this weekend. But, bar none, the best moment in the movie is when the cooks find the rats in the restaurant for the first time, and they all grab a weapon with which to fend off the vermin. The pastry chef (second to the left in the still), true to form, grabs the blowtorch. It’s true – it’s real – and it’s spot on.

I can’t imagine the amount of time that the animators at Pixar had to have spent in restaurant kitchens in order to do the research necessary to make the movie so incredibly accurate, and not just within the restaurant, but in Paris in general. Down to the street signs, the rendition of Parisian landscape, skyline, street layout, and ambiance was incredible – down to all of the patrons of the restaurant, at the parties, or on the streets wearing black. They really do. The plating of each dish in the movie was enough to make any chef take notes and sketches.

But perhaps the best thing that came from the release of the movie is that when I buy eggplant, zucchini, squash, bell peppers, and tomatoes, I won’t hear a chorus of “Rata-WHAT?” when my friends ask what I’m making.

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