Dickens cooking up a storm
Another reason to tune into is the food, writes
THE music and the finely honed scripts are more than enough reason to return to Treme for a third season, screening in Australia on the showcase channel.
But there’s another reason to tune in to this HBO series, based in post-Katrina New Orleans, and that’s the food – which is mostly the province of Kim Dickens in the role of chef Janette Desautel.
Alabama-born Dickens studied at New York’s Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and went on to indie and then mainstream success in movies like Palookaville, Mercury Risingand Thank You for Smoking, as well as TV roles in Deadwood, Friday Night Lights and Lost. She tells HBO in London her character starts season three in New York, having given up on life in New Orleans. What are you doing in the Big Apple?
I have found a place with David Chang’s restaurant, and I’m thriving there. I’m getting to do my own night and getting a lot of attention and having a lot more creative fulfilment for myself. So then a guy comes to the restaurant and tries to recruit you to come down to New Orleans?
Sure enough – here comes a backer. As much as my heart yearns for New Orleans, I do not want to go back; I am not ready to go back to it all. Then, in the third episode, a different backer comes around and I decide to take a look. And there’s romance – well, sex?
With my sous-chef, yes, it kind of started percolating in the end of season two. It has a steamy element. The whole thing becomes part of what goes on in three. That’s why she’s such a fun character to play. She’s hard-working, resilient, tough cookie and at the same time she’s out there drinking and dancing and, you know, having romance and singing with the best of them. Is the city OK with the show so far?
At first, the people let us know they weren’t too excited about us being here, because they don’t really like how their city’s been represented. However, our intention was always to represent them as honestly as we could – to represent their story with integrity. Once it finally hit the air, they gave us approval. They loved it, for the most part. It’s controversial in that it’s an unflinching look at dark and light elements to the city and to America. But people respond to that. New Orleans is a rumbustious town – is it easy to film there?
Sometimes it’s a challenge. You work all day and you’ve got to get home and go to bed because you got to work the next day then suddenly there’s a parade. It’s New Orleans, at the drop of a hat there’s a parade. But it’s fantastic. Have people responded to the food element of the show?
I remember when we shot the pilot . . . I knew the music was going to be awesome and sexy and fun, but I thought the food might fall flat. I was very excited to play the character and to be a chef – I just didn’t know if the storyline would measure up to all the exciting music. But the food gets an emotional response from the audience – the preparing of it, the kitchen scenes, all the choreography that goes in there and the energy. It ends up being like an action sequence. You seem to have almost every single famous chef in America making a cameo.
It’s been fun for me to have them all there, and my friends are all envious of me. We have a scene in episode one with almost every famous New York chef – it’s kind of a mob meeting, this undercover night where all these chefs eat exotic food. Is the cooking yours?
No, we have a chef stylist who prepares all the food. But I learn how to prepare and plate all the foods. Were you good at cooking before you started on the show?
I’m a better cook now. I’m a southern girl – I’m from Alabama – so I know southern food. My mother’s from Mobile, also on the Gulf, so I did spend a little time in New Orleans and I know that style of cuisine as well as Creole so I was familiar with it and I’m a lot more now.
I’m a better actor than I am a chef. Is your character based on anyone?
She’s loosely based on Susan Spicer, the owner and chef at Bayona but only as a model, as a prototype. I wouldn’t say any of her real character traits were Susan. Did you have to doresearch and hang-out in her kitchen?
Yeah, I did a lot of that. I hung out and spent a lot of time with her. I worked in Craft Kitchen in LA, which is Tom Colicchio and Craft Kitchen in Atlanta, also Tom Colicchio. I did a day or so at Providence in LA; everybody helping me out, teaching me things, showing me the ropes. Me getting in their way, basically. Do you know what she thinks of the way that you’re playing her?
I think she thinks I did a good job. I’ve seen her say, ‘‘Oh Kim was a little shy in the kitchen at first, and then got going.’’ I was never shy in the kitchen; I was just trying to stay out of the way. I waited tables when I was a struggling actor, so I know about the energy of kitchens. You say about the choreography, do you mean the scenes have to be choreographed? Or it’s like a dance then when you’re working in the kitchen?
Well it is like a dance. People have to be really in tune with each other. So the music and the food are uncannily similar?
Exactly. There’s music in my cooking.
Mondays, 7.30pm, Showcase.
Kim Dickens in the role of chef Janette Desautel.