Crunch! Scoff! Rustle! Slurp! Don’t get me started on the habit of eating in the cinema. The sound and the smell are enough to put me off the film.
Which is a great shame as I love watching someone prepare, cook and consume food on the screen. As fans are well aware, MasterChef: The Professionals (not to mention Junior MasterChef) is back on our screens for a fifth series.
It has the small screen’s advantage of being able to show endless footage of scallops being sealed and raspberry jus being drizzled for its own educational sake. And to celebrate such culinary arts, it’s with little arm-twisting that our thoughts turn to the great visual feasts of cinema.
Who can forget salivating to the banquet in Danish period drama Babette’s Feast? This epicurean delight is a manifestation of a lottery-winning housekeeper’s love for her adopted family in 19th-century Jutland.
One of her guests, a worldly general, notes the quality of every bite from the caviar blinis to the Caille en Sarcophage (quail in a puff pastry “coffin”) and Savarin au Rhum (rum sponge). Sensual pleasure fills the room.
As it did when lovers Albert Finney and Joyce Redman gobbled down a meal of chicken, oysters and fruit before repairing upstairs in the 1960s romp Tom Jones. Or when Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger whetted a similar appetite with a tasting session by the fridge in Nine 1/2 Weeks.
On a more family-friendly note, audiences found their thoughts drifting to the local restaurant yards from the cinema, encouraged by Pixar’s Parisian rat-in-the-kitchen fantasy Ratatouille. To think that a bank of PCs created flambéed courgettes you could almost smell…
Another cookery movie that had amateur chefs dashing for the kitchenware was Julie & Julia, in which Amy Adams as blogger Julie Powell attempts to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child’s cookbook in 365 days. Child (Meryl Streep), America’s Fanny Craddock, is seen learning Cordon Bleu in the 1950s.
As when the eponymous dish is prepared in Ratatouille, or when incarcerated mobster Paul Sorvino slices garlic with a razor blade in GoodFellas, this is a film that could be viewed as an instruction video.
As Julia, Streep declares, “All I think about all day is food!” If this is you, there are Chinese movies out there that linger over the preparation of gorgeous-looking dishes, such as Eat Drink Man Woman, The Wedding Banquet (both by Ang Lee) and The Chinese Feast. From Japan, Tampopo pretty much nails noodle soup.
It is Stanley Tucci, however, who provides my all-time favourite culinary moment in film, in 1996’s Big Night. As an Italian-American masterchef involved in a restaurant feud, he ends the movie – spoiler alert! – by cooking, in real time, a simple omelette. Just three eggs, a drizzle of oil and some seasoning, plus that magic cinematic ingredient – love.
And our own MasterChef judges’ favourites? Gregg Wallace agrees with me – for him, it’s Big Night. And John Torode’s vote goes to The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover: “The kitchen is amazing, the food is beautiful, and beautifully shot!”
This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 6 March 2012.