2017 Feast Food+Film – Creole & Chinese Delights

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Feast Food+Film is a three-day movie festival in Victoria, BC taking place in mid-June I generally do not miss. Some years are better than others in terms of how many movies I can see (tickets are $25 each). Sadly, James is losing interest in going to anything culinary and is very frugal these days. Also, at least for me, when a few of the movies / documentaries are quickly getting offered on VOD or Streaming services to view, my decision over what to see on a big screen is getting difficult. I want to save money too, but I’ll be missing getting to enjoy the tapa-sized tasters are offered at these events.

I did not have to view Cook Up the Storm, but a little voice in my head said go see it.

The organizers at the Victoria Film Festival never fail to tickle my taste-buds. I really enjoyed Bugs on the Menu from last year, and while nothing as exotic was offered this year, I had a well-made documentary in Commanding the Table to give me a quick history lesson on creole food. I love this style of cuisine and will go out of my way for it. To learn more about one of the early pioneers behind raising the bar on this style of cooking was engaging.

ella_brennan_poster_finalElla Brennan: Commanding the Table

Had I known this documentary is available on Netflix, I might have not gone to see this on the big screen. I’m glad I did as the food created by Chef Matt from Floyd’s Diner is perfection. Two of the three dishes are offered regularly, namely the banana foster and fried chicken & waffle, at the establishment. While I’m not sure of the creole style jambalaya served in a pastry is part of the menu, I will have to visit downtown (Matt is from the Langford location) to find out.

The film itself was very eye-opening. A lot of history is unveiled about Ella Brennan, the matriarch of the family and also a tour-de-force in launching a gastronomic empire. The story behind how the first operation came to be showed how she and her family wanted to turn food preparation into an art-form. When Commander’s Palace opened, the people she hired was also being groomed so they can excel. She certainly was at the forefront of turning chefs into celebrities. A simple mix of old photographs, newspaper clippings, videos (both old and new) highlight the discourse on how Ella is in the center of this culinary world in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Interviews between her, family, staff and Emeril Lagasse make for a very engaging tale about Ella. As for the various meals being made for the camera, if only I could fly there to sample many dishes teased at. I enjoyed learning about how Creole food got elevated to become high-class dining by the chefs Ella hired. She knew there was something special being developed by crossing cultures and philosophies in how to cook up a meal from locally sourced goods. In what got spotlighted, oh boy! Get me some ‘gator now!

A word to the wise: if I’m going to visit this operation, I believe it’s best for non-locals to phone ahead to make a reservation months in advance and plan a vacation around it.

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Cook Up a Storm

I expect this movie will soon be released to video since it released in late January as part of Chinese New Year. It’s worth buying to see a feast for the senses, and in the food offered — Chili & Peppered Calamari and Dry Garlic Spareribs by Golden City — the tastes very familiar and delectable. Although I have had plenty of both over the years, to rank which is better is difficult. I just have to point out that when seafood is made and delivered fresh off the wok, just what I feel after the first bite differs from those sitting under a buffet heat lamp. The former sat on the table for maybe half an hour and had to be delivered from the restaurant (about 7 minutes away) before being served. When considering Floyd’s had their own food truck parked beside the venue and Golden City does not, this nit-pick has to be noted.

In China, the love for food in cinema is very evident with the numerous films made throughout the decades. Wandering off the main drag to find diners serving up the scents made my one-time pilgrimage to the mainland (well, mostly around Shanghai) all the more educational in understanding how a tiny change in preparation alters a chef’s perception in how to cook up a meal.

From Tampopo to The God of Cookery, and the handful of movies I’ve seen leading up to Cook Up a Storm (shouldn’t be Cooking?), the pairing of food with comedy is a simple pairing of ideas to get viewers like me engaged. This latest film mixes up familial drama with rivalry between chefs in how to make a perfect meal. What you eat is not about what you can see and taste, but in how it can deliver an essential emotion: sparking fond memories of “just like how grandma used to make.”

In this film’s case, it’s in how to please papa. This subplot stands out more than the challenge between a country-style trained Sky Ko (Nicholas Tse) and the French-trained Michelin-star chef Paul Ahn (Jung Yong-hwa). The story moves along predictably. I wanted to know more about what separated Sky from Mountain (Anthony Wong). I’m sure the metaphors found in the English translation (assignment of the names) are intentional, and the literary analyst in me was cackling with glee.

Wong commands the screen like he owns it. His age makes for a great contrast to the young performers in this story. Although we do not see him go up against the devilishly handsome K-pop star Hwa, I can see how Sky came out of Mountain’s loin’s. Both have a look and and presence which works when the two actors play off each other. The flashbacks between the two characters, however, do not feel like enough to explain their animosity. I did enjoy how Sky figured out how to mend fences with papa. The answer is rather obvious, because of the clues offered in this film and elsewhere.

To watch this film as these three culinary masters battle it out over who is the new god of cookery is amusing. One uses time-honoured techniques to make the most basic of meals look and taste great (sadly, smell-o-vision and taste-o-vision has not been invented yet) and the other is more about innovation. This particular discourse is never explored in this quickly moving comedy. I did not expect the film to, but when seeing Paul create magic (and in presenting Mountain’s lava candy cake), a part of me wondered how much of this movie’s food presentation is real. I was willing to suspend disbelief because I was licking my lips at every dish presented on-screen! Such is the beauty of eating Chinese food at a restaurant. Presentation is everything in this particular culinary world, and those lobsters or crab that I have at those celebratory family events I go to … oh boy!

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