Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Vatel" and the Excesses of the French Court

The film Vatel features one of my favorite witty put-downs, spoken by the queen's lady-in-waiting Anne de Montausier to the king's steward Lauzun:
Lauzun: The king sends you his compliments. And he begs the favor of taking a cup of chocolate with you in your room at midnight.
Anne: With me?
Lauzun: May I offer you my congratulations? Although, as you can imagine, this came as a great blow to me. After tonight, I cannot hope for deliverance from the pain of my own desires. So, may I suggest … my rooms at 10:00?
Anne: Alas, monsieur. Ten o’clock, I have an even more attractive offer. Her Majesty has asked me to delouse her spaniel.
But that's not why we've included Vatel in our research for Cooking with the Movies. Based on a true story, Vatel is a film that not only features some astonishing cooking, but it is a testament to the human spirit of ingenuity, not to mention the striving for freedom that would eventually bring down the French monarchy.
François Vatel (Depardieu) is the master steward of the debt-ridden Prince de Condé (Glover), who plans to use Vatel’s culinary and theatrical talents to win a commission as General of the French Army in the war against the Dutch. The scheme works all too well for the prince, who receives the post he desires but wagers, and loses, Vatel’s services in a card game with the Sun King (Sands).
The film is sumptuous in every detail, from the costumes to the elaborate “stage” sets to the astonishing variety of food: fish and goose and lobster, oranges and pears and apricots, custards and chocolates and candied grapes and spun-sugar confections. A “magician” in the kitchen and elsewhere, Vatel makes up for what his prince cannot afford with amazing feats of improvisation: lacking beef for the meat pies, he creates a mushroom filling that fools the most discerning palates; when the eggs for the custard spoil, he beats sugar into cream to create a fluffy “Chantilly”; upon receiving a shipment of broken glass lanterns, he replaces them by cutting geometric designs into melons to make charming candleholders. He also wins the admiration of the queen’s lady in waiting, Anne (Thurman), inspiring her to abandon her shallow life at court, though he is not able himself to make the same escape.
Vatel: On Friday, the fish banquet will be presented on a sea of ice—Neptune’s tribute to Helios, the sun god.
De Condé: The king will catch cold.
Vatel: No, my prince. The braziers will be lit one hour before the banquet.
De Condé: Then the ice will melt.
Vatel: I have forbidden it to melt, my prince.
De Condé: (laughing) Well, our fate is in your hands.

Released (U.S.A.) December 25, 2000
Directed by Roland Joffé
Written by Jeanne Labrune; English adaptation by Tom Stoppard
Starring Gérard Depardieu as François Vatel, Uma Thurman as Anne de Montausier, Tim Roth as Marquis de Lauzun, Timothy Spall as Gourville, Julian Glover as Prince de Condé, Julian Sands as Louis XIV, Murray Lachlan Young as Philippe d’Orleans, Hywel Bennett as Colbert, Richard Griffiths as Dr. Bourdelot, Sébastien Davis as Demaury, and Nathalie Cerda as The Queen Marie-Thérèse
Awards: 2000 Camerimage Silver Frog for Robert Fraisse (Cinematographer); 2001 César Award for Best Production Design (Jean Rabasse)

Demaury: More than half the eggs are addled. We can’t make the custard.
Vatel: Watch. (beating sugar into cream) The sugar will come out like beaten egg whites. If they ask you what it is, tell them it’s an old recipe from Chantilly.

Vatel: Harmony and contrast. All beauty comes from those two things. … Few objects are beautiful or ugly in themselves. To know that is the beginning of being an artist.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Breakfast of Champions

Another "food" film that has nothing to do with food:
Waitress: Breakfast of Champions!
Hoover: You said that the last time you brought me my martini.
Waitress: I say it every time I serve a martini, Mr. Hoover.
Hoover: Oh, that’s probably why God invented these little small towns, so people could keep saying the same stupid jokes over and over again.
Waitress: I just like to cheer people up, that’s all.
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Breakfast of Champions has little if anything to do with breakfast or food of any type. It is an outrageous story about Dwayne Hoover (Willis), owner of a landmark car dealership, and his quest for the meaning of life. Simultaneously, it is the tale of Kilgore Trout (Finney), a washed up science-fiction novelist, and his search for an audience who appreciates his writing. Hoover and Trout collide in Midland City, where Trout provides Hoover with a reason to continue living, and Hoover provides Trout with a “leak” (mirror) into a younger, more beautiful existence.
Cook Lottie: Mr. Hoover! Breakfast of champions! (calling up to Hoover, who is about to “eat” a bullet for breakfast) Breakfast of champions, Mr. Hoover! (serving a plate of pancakes, bacon, fried eggs, tomatoes, and strawberries)
Hoover: Great news, people, today’s not the day.
Below: Bruce Willis as Dwayne Hoover and Glenne Headly as Francine Pefko.
Fun Facts
Kurt Vonnegut makes an appearance in the film as the director of the commercial for the car dealership. He also created the self-portrait hanging in Rosewater’s office and drew the illustrations featured in the opening credits and notes.
Below: Bruce Willis as Dwayne Hoover, with Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (left) and Alan Rudolph (right).

Below: Albert Finney as Kilgore Trout.

Released (USA) May 15, 1999
Screenplay by Alan Rudolph; based on the book by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Directed by Alan Rudolph
Starring Bruce Willis as Dwayne Hoover, Albert Finney as Kilgore Trout, Nick Nolte as Harry Le Sabre, Barbara Hershey as Celia Hoover, Glenne Headly as Francine Pefko, Lukas Haas as George “Bunny” Hoover, Omar Epps as Wayne Hoobler, Vicki Lewis as Grace Le Sabre, Buck Henry as Fred T. Barry, Ken Hudson Campbell as Eliot Rosewater, Jake Johannsen as Bill Bailey, Will Patton as Moe the Truck Driver, Chip Zien as Andy Wojeckowzski, Owen Wilson as Monte Rapid, Alison Eastwood as Maria Maritimo, Michael Clarke Duncan as Eli, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. as Commercial Director

Friday, January 2, 2009

Like Water for Chocolate

Doctor John Brown: I see you didn't touch your dinner. Sue Ellen is a horrible cook, but my son and I put up with her food. Of course, *you* don't have to.

Doctor John Brown: My aunt is as deaf as a post.
Tita: Then how can she carry on conversations?
Doctor John Brown: She reads lips, but when she is eating, she is too preoccupied to notice anything else. Watch. [shouts] Tia Mary, I’m marrying Tita because the poor girl is crazy. [Tia Mary continues eating.]

Gertrudis: Sergeant, can you cook cream fritters?
Sargento Treviño: To be honest ... no. But if you want, I will try.
Gertrudis: You have never let me down before. I hope this will not be the first time.
Sargento Treviño: Yes, my general

So for New Year's Eve, we decided to do recipes from the film "Like Water for Chocolate," based on the book of the same name that comes from the Mexican "magical realism" writing tradition. The movie is a bit strange, but the food is amazing: Tortas de Navidad, Sopa de Fideos, Caldo de Colita de Res, Mole de Quajolote con Almendra y Ajonjolí, Champandongo, Chocolate y Rosca de Reyes, Frijoles Gordos con Chile a la Texcucana, and more. One thing we learned that's very important: when converting from grams to cups, the conversion for flour is different from the conversion for sugar is different from the conversion for nuts is different from.... Our mistake turned the wedding cake into an egg frittata--which was very good with salsa, but not what we had intended! But we made the correction, and the cake was a splendid success. Here it is:

This is the Three Kings' Bread, also delicious:

Ox-Tail Soup:

Beans with chile:

Wedding Capons:

Released February 17, 1993
Starring Marco Leonardi as Pedro Muzquiz, Lumi Cavazos as Tita, Regina Torné as Mamá Elena, Mario Iván Martínez as Doctor John Brown, Ada Carrasco as Nacha, Yareli Arizmendi as Rosaura, Claudette Maillé as Gertrudis, Pilar Aranda as Chencha, Farnesio de Bernal as Cura, Joaquín Garrido as Sargento Treviño, Rodolfo Arias as Juan Alejándrez, Margarita Isabel as Paquita Lobo, Sandra Arau as Esperanza Muzquiz, Andrés Garcia Jr. as Alex Brown, and Regino Herrera as Nicolás
Directed by Alfonso Arau
Screenplay by Laura Esquivel, based upon the book of the same title by Laura Esquivel
--1992 Ariel Awards, Mexico: Gold Ariel for Alfonso Arau; Silver Ariel for Best Actor (Mario Iván Martínez), Best Actress (Regina Torné), Best Actress in Minor Role (Margarita Isabel), Best Cinematography, Best Direction (Alfonso Arau), Best Production Design, Best Screenplay (Esquivel), Best Set Design, and Best Supporting Actress (Claudette Maillé)
--1993 Gramado Film Festival Audience Award (Arau) and Golden Kikito for Best Actress (Cavazos) and Best Supporting Actress (Maillé)
--1992 Guadalajara Mexican Film Festival Audience Award (Arau)
--1994 Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Film
--1993 Premios ACE for Best Actor (Martínez), Best Director (Arau), and Best Film
--1992 Sudbury Cinéfest Best International Film (Arau)

--1992 Tokyo International Film Festival: Best Actress (Cavazos) and Best Artistic Contribution (Cinematographers)