Hun­gry for More

Prestige Hong Kong - - CONTENTS -

When I was young I saw [di­rec­tor Marco Fer­reri’s] La Grande Bouffe and I thought that would be a good way to die – by eat­ing,” says Luca Catalfamo of the film in which four friends con­verge on a villa with the sole pur­pose of din­ing them­selves to death. “As I be­came in­ter­ested in food and in cooking, film re­ally in­flu­enced me and showed me what was pos­si­ble. Not to die, of course, but it helped to show me the plea­sure there is in food.” These days, the Mi­lan-born Catalfamo has rid­den his pas­sion for the Ja­panese spe­cial­ity of ra­men to a po­si­tion where he’s one of ris­ing stars of the Ital­ian culi­nary scene – if not the world’s. Catalfamo’s unique take on ra­men tra­di­tions – in­clud­ing mix­ing the pasta sta­ple du­rum se­molina with the more com­monly used wheat flour for his noo­dles – so im­pressed the Ja­panese that they al­lowed him to set up his Casa Luca pop-up at the Shin-Yoko­hama Ra­men Mu­seum for 18 months. It was the first time a non-Ja­panese chef was handed the hon­our. Catalfamo is un­til next month work­ing a pop-up at New York’s Ra­men Lab, while pon­der­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of open­ing his own out­let there. New York is the city where he first fell for ra­men’s charms, af­ter pass­ing a block-length queue out­side Ip­pudo one day, and won­der­ing what the fuss was all about. But what got us to talk­ing – and think­ing – about the con­nec­tion be­tween food and film was his ap­pear­ance ear­lier this year at the Far East Film Fes­ti­val in Udine, Italy. Catalfamo had a pop-up Casa Ra­men sit­u­ated above one of the fes­ti­val’s the­atres for its du­ra­tion, and the place was sold out on each of the fes­ti­val’s 10 days. The fact that the clas­sic film Tam­popo (1985) was screen­ing just be­low cer­tainly helped. The Juzo Itami-di­rected “ra­men Western” takes aim at all sorts of cin­e­matic clichés and gen­res, but at its very heart it’s a paean to ra­men – and to other del­i­ca­cies. It’s been de­light­ing au­di­ences around the world for decades, equal parts en­ter­tain­ing and in­trigu­ing. You walk away want­ing to join the feast. Mostly in cinema, food fea­tures in cameos, or at best in a sup­port­ing role that’s used as a de­vice to add to a mood, and – of­ten not-too-sub­tly – to push home a sug­ges­tion of where the story is about to take us. Think of all those ripe peaches hang­ing around in Luca Guadagnino’s Os­carnom­i­nated com­ing-of-age drama Call Me by Your Name (2017), and there were no real sur­prises about where we (and the lead char­ac­ters) were be­ing led. The role food plays can also leave you baf­fled. Any screen­ings of the Wong Kar-wai clas­sic Chungk­ing Ex­press (1994) are these days ru­ined, slightly, by our fo­cus on the fact that Tony Le­ung’s po­lice­man vis­its a dodgy kebab shop dur­ing his “will they, won’t they” court­ing of Faye Wong’s wait­ress – but he al­ways or­ders a chef’s salad. Why? We well re­mem­ber Lan Kwai Fong’s Mid­night Ex­press, where these scenes were set, and there’s no way you or­dered any­thing but the ke­babs. And even then you were brave. But what about the films where it’s all about the feast – no mat­ter what the film­maker’s in­ten­tions might orig­i­nally have been? There’s lit­tle doubt that when Itami sat down to pen Tam­popo he wanted to use daily life at a ra­men house to poke fun at Ja­panese char­ac­ter­is­tics – and even tra­di­tions. But the film was – and re­mains –

wildly pop­u­lar around the world be­cause it also tapped into the com­mon­al­ity of the pro­cesses we all go through when shar­ing a meal. And it helped in­tro­duce a global gen­er­a­tion to ra­men, as Catalfamo can at­test. “When you see it, you want to eat ra­men,” he said. “It’s im­pos­si­ble to re­sist.” Dan­ish di­rec­tor Gabriel Axel’s Os­car win­ner Ba­bette’s Feast (1987) ex­plored is­sues of re­li­gion and faith – but it was pretty hard to avert eyes from the sight of Stéphane Au­dran work­ing away in the kitchen and pre­par­ing to spoil two sis­ters who have spent their lives deny­ing them­selves any plea­sure. The theme of com­mu­nal din­ing and what goes on around the ta­ble was also at the fore­front of the film that in­tro­duced sto­ry­telling mas­ter Ang Lee to the world. But – for­tu­nately, we say – un­like La Grande Bouffe, sex was never part of the menu in the Os­car-nom­i­nated com­e­dy­drama Eat Drink Man Woman (1994). In­stead we had Chi­nese-style home­cooked ban­quets that served – as they so of­ten do – as a fo­rum to air fam­ily griev­ances and to cel­e­brate fam­ily ties. All of which begs the ques­tion as to which pro­duc­tion might be pre­sented as the best food film ever made. Our vote goes to a film that doesn’t even fea­ture hu­man be­ings as its main char­ac­ters. In­stead it’s a rat (as voiced by Pat­ton Oswalt) whose sheer pas­sion for food – from the sourc­ing to the prepa­ra­tion to the feast – makes the Brad Bird-di­rected an­i­ma­tion of Rata­touille (2007) so spe­cial. Sure, they’re all car­toons but the film cap­tures the craft – the art – that goes in to ev­ery meal. Or should. It was rated by the late great An­thony Bour­dain as “the best restau­rant movie ever made”.


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