A Feast for the Senses: A Brief Guide to the Intersection of Food & Film

By Brian Hurwitz
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Source: Everett Collection

There is nothing objective about art. No matter the medium, it is imagineered by a creator with the intent of baring their souls to our hearts. Yet the subjective nature of those efforts makes its overall merit almost impossible to assess.

On the other hand, there’s no denying that good doctors save lives. Good lawyers win cases. Good stockbrokers make money. They’re objective professionals whose objective efforts yield objective results. More importantly, they temper our responsibilities. Artists and entertainers ignite our passions, which is why the value of their work, or lack thereof, can only be judged by the personal impact it has on our individual senses. For me, film and food are the very height of sensory gorgeousness and gorgeousity. Although neither stimulates all five concurrently, combining both has the potential to electrify each of them simultaneously. 

I’ve seen plenty of movies that had me marveling at the sumptuous majesty of food. 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory magically endows it with the ability to transcend social status by bringing out the child in each of us. 2007’s Ratatouille beautifully depicts food as a universal language that can effectively bridge both cultural and generational gaps. And 2014’s Chef soulfully illustrates the redemptive and transformative power of food.

I dare anyone to tell me these films aren’t pleasing to the eye, and the accompanying sound effects and scores, ranging from the whimsical to the emotional, are equally gratifying to the ear. Sadly, the mouthwatering splendor presented on-screen is not something I could taste, touch or smell. For that, I have to come face to face with the fare.

While most food festivals celebrate the culinary and oenological arts, some judges add cinematic flair by challenging participating chefs to create dishes inspired by classic films. At one such recent event, a chef crafted a lamb tagine and Persian flatbread to pair with ArgoJaws prompted another to make zucchini boats stuffed with tuna, scallop and shrimp ceviche. When asked to capture the spirit of E.T., a third served up a chocolate ganache-glazed peanut butter torte.

I feel safe in assuming those offerings and their aromas appealed to the eye and nose as much as the palate. And regardless of the fact that the majority of them had to be eaten with a knife and fork, a few called upon diners to experience the velvety, spongy or crumbly textures by engaging their sense of touch. Yet the resonant din from a crowd of envious onlookers hardly qualified as music to my ears. Nevertheless, those chefs’ extravagant efforts succeeded in tantalizing four of the judges’ senses. But since I’m talking about maximizing simple pleasures, it seems the surest way to set all five on fire requires a more straightforward approach.

Netflix turned me and millions of others into couch potatoes. For a while I stopped going to the movies altogether thanks to the streaming service’s ability scratch my cinematic itch for less than the cost of a matinee. Then the studios rolled out their summer blockbusters and I discovered what I’d been depriving myself of for who knew how long.

When I ventured out to the Cinépolis Luxury Cinema in Westlake Village, my eyes and ears fully expected to be satiated by the state of the art projection and sound systems. My body’s pampering, courtesy of a fully reclining seat, was a nice surprise, as was the full lobby bar. However, what truly made it a momentous occasion by galvanizing my taste buds and olfactory system was the expanded menu.

Venturing well beyond popcorn and candy, it included cheese plates, burgers, flatbreads, sushi, salads and a variety of desserts that tasted as delicious as they smelled and could be ordered from my plush seat with the mere push of a button. It wasn’t until after the lights dimmed and the film washed over me that I realized I was treating my five senses to a decadent feast. Had the movie been about food, I daresay it might have kicked a sixth into gear.

Sure, ‘Netflix and Chill’ promises comparable sensory satisfaction without leaving the comfort of my home, but theaters like these let me do it in style. And art is all about style. 

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