Allen Varney, writer and game designer


Got Movies? Whet your appetite with these tasty food films


[Published as "Cafe du Cinema" in Video magazine, October 1997. Editors: reprint rights available!]

Welcome to Cafe du Cinema. Smoking or non? Very good. Please follow me to your table and screen.

Today's menu begins with succulent tangerine slices in crystallized honey, together with the dinner scene from Tony Richardson's 1963 film Tom Jones. As you watch Tom and his latest lady swallow a delectable meal, you'll salivate. As they exchange brazen grins and run lips and tongue provocatively around each stimulating mouthful, you'll wish for a private booth. And that's just the appetizer.

For your entree, I suggest quail in rose petal sauce, served with tarragon garlic potatoes and Alfonso Arau's 1993 Mexican film Like Water for Chocolate. Again, food serves as metaphor for passion: The frustrated young cook, Tita, magically infuses this toothsome quail dish with her desire for the handsome Pedro. "That's how Tita invaded Pedro's body," says the narrator, "voluptuously, ardently fragrant and utterly sensual. They had discovered a new way of communicating." Quail communication turns out to be a broadcast system, because when Tita's family eats the dish, suddenly they're breathing hard, opening their collars, and probably wishing for a private booth. Tita's sister gets so worked up that she runs from the room, showers, and sprints naked into the desert to join the Mexican Revolution.

Today Cafe du Cinema also offers piccioni ripieni, roast pigeons with Romano cheese stuffing, served piping hot with lemon and rissoto alla Milanese -- saffron rice, a highlight of our accompanying 1996 film, Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott's Big Night. Here food represents pure Old World standards of quality, as maintained by an Italian chef who says, "To eat good food is to be close to God." Unfortunately, he's cooking in 1950s Brooklyn, where they want food that's close to the highway. We serve the same entree with Norman Jewison's 1987 Moonstruck, a Little Italy romance that instills in every viewer an unshakable compulsion to visit the nearest Italian restaurant.

For patrons whose appetite transcends mere budget, we provide the seven-course French extravaganza from Gabriel Axel's Babette's Feast. This 1987 Danish film stars mournful fundamentalist Danes who live in North Nowhere and say things like "All is vanity." But despite their best efforts to stay glum, a 10,000-franc dinner by one of France's finest chefs gets them smiling and singing hymns. The meal becomes a work of art, well worth a trip to North Nowhere and beyond.

Cafe du Cinema also features a full Asian menu, beginning with pork noodles and Juzo Itami's 1986 masterpiece Tampopo. This hilarious Japanese film starts with a how-to of proper noodle appreciation ("caress the pork lightly with your chopsticks"). A widowed cook's quest for perfect noodles forms the broth of the rich story, but it gains its flavor from random vignettes of food and society, food and love, food and death.... Enjoy, and remember to slurp your noodles.

We do not serve meals with showings of The Chinese Feast, a giddy 1995 comedy by Hong Kong legend Tsui Hark. It's exciting, at least when the film's two master chefs compete in a cook-off for ownership of a restaurant. When knives flash and food jumps in its skillet, you'll feel like you're watching Jackie Chan. But our Western diners typically show little appetite for the dishes in question: elephant trunk, bear paw, and monkey brain.

However, we offer a large menu with our showing of Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman, from 1994. Choose any of the 100 delicious dishes shown in this Taiwanese movie, such as carp with garlic sauce, steamed deer in a pumpkin pot, winter melon soup, or red seven-star fish. In the dysfunctional Chu family, the old patriarch barely communicates with his daughters except through this extravagantly wonderful food. Yet their dinners rouse our interest as well as our appetite. The best food films present both fine dishes and interesting people you'd like as dinner companions.

Our children's menu includes spaghetti with meatballs, along with the "Bella Notte" number from Disney's 1955 Lady and the Tramp and highlights from 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Due to parental complaints, we've withdrawn the food fight sequence from John Avnet's 1991 Fried Green Tomatoes.

Lastly, Cafe du Cinema features a special food-free program for dieters, classic film scenes guaranteed to kill any appetite. Beginning with the exploding Mr. Creosote from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, we show bug-eating in Papillon, worse-than-bug-eating in Polyester, the horror flick The Stuff (with the slogan "Are you eating it, or is it eating you?"), Bloodsucking Freaks ("In Ghoulovision!"), Eating Raoul, and the double bill I Drink Your Blood and I Eat Your Skin.

I'll be back in a moment to take your order.