19 August 2007


I've just come back from seeing Ratatouille. I knew it was going to be good for two reasons: Pixar and director Brad Bird. Bird always seems to have a moment in each of his movies (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) that make me tear up a little. Watching the mother panic in the Incredibles, the moment at the end of the Iron Giant where he closes his eyes and says "Superman..." Bird always comes through.

He did so again in Ratatouille. It was once again at a moment of high emotion, one that I've never seen expressed in a film before, let alone an animated one. I will try and discuss this very vaguely, for those of you that haven't seen the movie. This is what happens:

A character takes a bite of a dish prepared by the chef (who happens to be a rat). The customer puts the food in his mouth and freezes. He recalls a memory of his from childhood, one where he remembers eating the same dish. It flashes back to the present, and he slowly chews the food, tasting it, savoring it. It is by far the most visceral food moment I've ever seen in a movie, and the most accurate.

This may come off as a load of bunk if you're not a food person. It's okay, I don't think any less of you. I only feel bad, because there is so much in life that you're missing out on. I'm sure there are things in life that I'm missing out on, too, like the pleasures of Nickelback and NASCAR.

This moment of the movie rings true to anyone who has ever really tried and tasted food. Where it becomes something more than sweet/savory fuel to keep you from feeling hungry. Think about it for a moment. What was the last great thing you've tasted? The last thing that you wanted to grab someone by the shoulders and shake them and say "You won't believe what I just ate!!!" Maybe it was a perfectly cooked piece of salmon. Maybe it was a Hot Pocket (I really hope not).

I ate brunch yesterday (and today, too in fact) at a restaurant in my neighborhood called Lula Cafe, which I believe to be one of the best restaurants in the city of Chicago. It's not the most expensive, it doesn't have the fanciest waiters or most formal service, but what it does have are two chefs, a married couple, who both prepare the food, cooked from mostly locally produced and/or organic/sustainable ingredients. The menu changes weekly, to reflect what is in season, and many of the farms are noted on the menu along with the ingredients they provide.

Yesterday, I ate French toast there. It wasn't regular French toast, of course. It was brioche French toast, stuffed with mascarpone, served with Klug Farm blueberries and peaches, with some sort of creme anglais on the plate. It was incredible. The berries more than likely had been picked no more than a day or so before, transported only two hours to the restaurant, where they ended up on my plate. The dish used the mascarpone and creme anglais in the place of more traditional maple syrup, the creaminess offset by the tartness of the fruit.

This is what I had for breakfast.

It was great because of the ingredients, of how it was prepared, because of where I ate it. But one of the most driving reasons why it succeeded in going the distance is that it evoked memories of my childhood.

On Sundays, my Dad would make French toast for all of us. Nothing fancy, he'd use wheat bread from the supermarket, eggs, and that's really it. We'd put syrup on it (I'm not sure if it was even real maple syrup...is Aunt Jemima even real maple syrup?). The extra egg left over would be scrambled and we'd eat that too (a little left over for the dog). Eating the French toast at Lula brough back memories of those Sunday mornings with my family, before we all grew up moved on. My parents weren't much older than I am now, and I am now typing on the table that we used to eat those meals on. There's history there. There's history in my breakfast. There's those sight and smells and sounds and tastes and sensation that harken back to more innocent days, and when art is able to tap into those, it succeeds in creating a reaction exponentially stronger than what it could do on its own, more powerful, more memorable.

I've never seen a movie show that so accurately. They were absolutely right, and I thank them for sharing that emotion with me.


McGone said...

Great post. Now I remember that I skipped breakfast today.

And Bird is a genius - he got the best performance anyone has ever gotten out of Vin Diesel. Who knew that the most human of Diesel's perfomances would come from playing a robot?

pistols at dawn said...

I like food, too, but if it leads Proust to write Remembrance of Things Past just because he smelled a biscuit he'd once eaten, then I don't know if I can support that sort of food wankery.

Valerie said...

I haven't seen that movie...yet.

I am a big Brad Bird fan too. I feel the same way about the "Superman" line in "The Iron Giant."

And I am one of those people that also ties memories to good food (and a vacation is rated on the food we eat).

Nice post.

The Idea Of Progress said...

McGone: When The Iron Giant came out, I thought that the name Vin Diesel was a pseudonym...it seemed too perfect. Because of that movie, he has a lot of goodwill in my book (although, if he makes another movie like The Pacifier, he may lose that goodwill)

Pistols: I think of The Idea Of Progress as like Remembrance of Things Past, but less boring, with more Bono.

Valerie: Welcome. There will be more non-boring food and drink talk coming up soon, I promise.