At first glance, the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture this year seem to offer little more than a faint whiff of the passion for food that has been portrayed on the big screen in recent years.
There are no indie hits like 2014’s “Chef,” the food truck/road trip movie written and directed by its star Jon Favreau; no star vehicles along the lines of 2009’s “Julie and Julia,” showcasing Meryl Streep as the irrepressible Julia Child; and no family favorites like 2007’s “Ratatouille,” about a country mouse who goes to Paris to become a French chef.
But if you look a little closer, a handful of top movies do offer key scenes that illuminate the pivotal role that cooking plays in nourishing love and intimacy, evoking memories of childhood and serving as a metaphor for life itself.
Since the awards season provides a perfect excuse to throw a theme party — with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood providing the perfect backdrop on the big screen — we have chosen a few of the top 10 Best Picture nominees to help you plan your menu.
1. The main course: Food as love
“Moonlight,” which nabbed eight Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe award for Best Picture, is expected to shine during the 89th annual Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26, as it goes head-to-head with the reinvented, modern musical, “La La Land,” which earned a record-tying 14 nominations.
Many believe the sheer gravitas of “Moonlight,” an African-American coming-of-age drama set in Miami, may overwhelm the retro, escapist romp that is “La La Land,” a light-hearted love letter to Los Angeles.
“Moonlight” tells the story of protagonist Chiron across three periods of his life: as a shy and withdrawn boy with an emotionally abusive mother; as a sensitive teen-ager who realizes he is gay, then goes to juvenile jail for beating up the bully who attacks him; and as a hardened adult making a living from drug-dealing while living in near isolation.
The food scene occurs at the very end of the film, when Chiron returns to Miami to visit his childhood friend, Kevin, the only person who has ever touched him sexually. Now working as a cook at a diner, Kevin prepares a comforting Latin dish, arroz con pollo, in a touching vignette that Bon Appétit has described as “one of the best food scenes of the year.”
Director Barry Jenkins shot the cooking scene in slow motion, dropping out the sounds of the kitchen and inserting the film score. After Kevin forms the rice lovingly with a ring mold and plates the dish, the sound of the knife returns viewers to reality as he chops the cilantro for the garnish.
“Kevin was deliberately preparing this thing out of love,” Jenkins told Bon Appetit magazine. “When you cook for someone, this is a deliberate act of nurturing. This very simple thing is the currency of genuine intimacy.”
Arroz con pollo, a staple that nearly every Latin American associates with their mother or grandmother’s kitchen, is an easy, one-pot dish that has as many variations as there are cooks.
“Arroz con pollo ... has provided easy, tasty sustenance for centuries of folks from Taos to Tierra del Fuego,” Chef Rick Bayless wrote in his cookbook, “Mexican Everyday.” “Each prepared, of course, with those inimitable qualities unique to one’s own mother.”
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