Brian Shaw: Sweet way to a happy ending
I love movies, especially ones about food. So, with Christmas just around the corner, I thought a few suggestions for culinary-themed movies might be helpful to those of you looking for that gift for the “foodies” on your list.
Here are a few I own and enjoy watching every time I put one on.
My personal favorite is “The Big Night.” Two Italian brothers struggling to keep their little restaurant afloat while staying true to their passion for authentic, traditional cuisine from the home country go all out (inspirational pasta preparation scenes) for one big night at which jazz great Louis Prima is to be the celebrity guest. You’ll recognize the music of Prima as well as a pre-famous Stanley Tucci, Minnie Driver and a non-speaking James Franco as the bus boy.
For a more serious look at cooking, try “Babbete’s Feast,” in Swedish with subtitles, but the story is simple, and the kitchen scenes are what’s memorable for their purity. A highly celebrated female chef is forced to leave Paris ahead of Hitler’s invasion. She finds refuge in a remote Danish fishing village where she rewards her hosts by preparing a lavish meal, which affords you, the viewer, a look at classical haute cuisine the way it’s meant to be — without Cuisinarts, immersion blenders and liquid nitrogen. If nothing else, it gives one’s library credibility.
Next is “Tortilla Soup” starring Hector Elizondo. An aging chef is forced to realize the cooking style of his life’s work is no longer cool, and turns to his three daughters for the answer. Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of the Two Hot Tamales are the technical advisors, which results in some beautiful, contemporary Latin cuisine.
Along the same line is “Chef” in which Jon Favreau plays a famous chef who refuses to buckle to his domineering boss, throws it all away and instead tries to find himself by selling Cuban sandwiches from a food truck. Roy Choi of LA food truck fame is the impetus behind the food which explains how they can make a feature length movie around a sandwich.
In the Pixar animated film, “Ratatouille,” a rat with an exceptional sense of taste realizes his dream of becoming an accomplished chef in the best restaurant in Paris, in spite of the politics and, of course, the disadvantages that come with being a rat. I don’t know who the technical advisor was, but they nailed the classical European kitchen Brigade with all of their egos.
Finally, there’s “Julie, Julia” where a going-nowhere office worker decides to blog through every one of the recipes in Julia Childs’ “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Lots of good cooking scenes, plus they simultaneously tell the story of Ms. Child’s ascension to fame, proving Merril Streep could play the lead in The Dale Earnhardt Story and still be totally believable.
All of these movies have one common feel good thread — our heroes overcome adversity by focusing on their passion for cooking.
And what do they have in common with serving this Mocha Pot au Crème for dessert at your next holiday dinner party? A happy ending.
MOCHA POT AU CREME
Makes six 4-ounce servings
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup ground decaf espresso*
1/2 cup sugar
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped or chips
8 egg yolks
Place the milk, cream, sugar and espresso in a small sauce pan, and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep for 30 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine strainer into a clean saucepan (or strain into a bowl, rinse, and dry the pot and return the strained mix into the clean pot).
Add the chocolate and stir occasionally until the chocolate has dissolved. You may have to give it a little heat if the mix has cooled too much.
In a clean bowl whip the egg yolks until they are thickened slightly. Temper the yolks by stirring about a cup of the mix into the eggs. Return the tempered eggs to the pot, and cook over low-to-medium heat, stirring constantly until the mix thickens — it should be thick enough that your spoon leaves a wake, like stirring paint. Do not allow it to boil.
Divide the custard into the six ramekins or cups and refrigerate until set — 4 hours or overnight.
Bring them out of the refrigerator for about 15 minutes before serving. Top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
*We use decaf espresso because the combination of sugar, chocolate and caffeinated espresso can make you more than a little anxious. Either will work.
Brian Shaw and his wife, Ardie, own Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City.