Feast Your Eyes: Babette’s Feast (1986)

As Bastille Day arrives this coming weekend, it’s hard to pick just one food film with a French connection. The French have contributed so much to the language, flavor, and art of food (much like politics and fashion).
But this go ’round, I choose Babette’s Feast. I know, I know, it is a foreign film in Danish with English subtitles, but its heroine, Babette, is French. 

When revolution breaks out in her native country, French refugee Babette appears at the door of two sisters in Jutland, Denmark. She carries a letter from an old friend of one of the sisters, and she seeks shelter in exchange for performing domestic work, including cooking. The sisters accept, though running a parish they inherited from their father, they are used to a diet of dried fish and fairly plain food that reflects their outlook and devout faith. Fancy, succulent French cookery is not their style, and they do fear its potentially soul-corrupting influence. The film delves into each sister’s past.

The film is based on a short story by Isak Dinesen. Dinesen is most famous for her memoir, Out of Africa. Coincidentally, it too was made into a film in the 1980s, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

TRIVIA: Denmark has no official independence or national day.


Feast For the Eyes: Tortilla Soup (2001)

Cinco de Mayo is almost upon us.

It is the anniversary of the battle of Puebla, a victory of the Mexicans of Puebla over the French in May 5, 1862. It is not Mexican Independence Day, which happened on September 16, 1810. It is not even a big deal for Mexicans outside of Puebla. But it is an excuse to drink ample amounts of Corona, Dos Equis, Modelo, and margaritas, and be ‘unofficially Mexican’ for an evening.

A perfect foodie movie for this time of year is 2001’s Tortilla Soup, a Latin-flavored story set in Los Angeles. Widower (Hector Elizondo) is a retired chef with three grown daughters, Leticia, Carmen and Maribel.  Eating large dinners together is a family tradition, but its evident each daughter is restless with tradition and wants more for her life. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps fate just might have what each woman wants.

The plot of this movie was inspired by the Ang Lee film Eat Drink Man Woman, originally released for a Taiwanese audience, in 1994.

Tortilla Soup is not just a catchy title, it really is a dish. It is a chicken broth-based soup containing tomatoes, peppers, and oregano, with crispy tortilla strips served on top. In the US, it contains chunks of chicken meat as well. I especially love this soup when I feel a cold or sinus issue coming on—chicken and hot peppers loaded with vitamin C are just what the doctor ordered, not to mention delicious.

Feast Your Eyes: Chocolat (2001)

A great foodie movie for this time of year (Winter, or pre-spring for some of us) is Chocolat, based on the foodie novel by Joanne Harris.

This year Ash Wednesday falls very close to Valentine’s Day. For those of us who grew up Christian (especially Roman Catholic), it was an obvious choice to give up candy or chocolate for Lent. So some years, that lovely heart-shaped box someone got you on Valentines met a premature end–it went in the trash, or stored and forgotten in the family freezer.  In 2 months time new chocolate arrived with Easter. ‘Oh well. Really, this tangent relates to the film…

Chocolat tells the story of Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk, who move frequently around France in the 1950s. Vianne is a very talented candymaker and baker with French and Native American roots. She learned her craft from her indigenous mother.

Vianne opens a chocolate shop the first week of Lent, much to the chagrin of the town’s pious, conservative and traditional mayor, Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina). Reynaud sees himself as a moral compass for his town, responsible for keeping bad influences out, and Vianne is no exception. This film also features Dame Judi Dench, Leslie Caron, Lena Olin, Carrie Ann Moss, and Johnny Depp. That’s all I will tell you, because anything more is a spoiler.

One of Vianne’s specialties is authentic Mexican hot chocolate, which includes chili peppers and whipped cream.

If it is too much to resist making your own, the recipe appears in My French Kitchen, a recipe book created by Fran Warde in collaboration with Joanne Harris.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joanne Harris is really good at creating stories of intrigue and mystery with a rich food angle. Five Quarters of the Orange, Blackberry Wine, and Coastliners were also written by her in the last decade (2000s).

NOTE TO THE AUTHOR: When I read about family rivalries and food all centered in one town, I think the South is a natural fit to follow tales about France and England. Charleston, Savannah, St. Augustine, and New Orleans are all very old and possessed with ghosts—Joanne, you’ll love them!