Food is used as a tool for the filmmaker to communicate with the audience — it can uncover new sides of a character, depending on what they choose to indulge in, or it can signal romance or a deep sense of friendship, since cooking a meal is an act of love when done right.
And, sometimes, it can be used simply to make us salivate — there’s no denying that a well-shot plate of food, or the sight of freshly baked bread, can evoke the sense of delicious smells wafting into the cinema, instantly elevating the appetite.
In Ratatouille, it was food that transported the cynical food critic back to the comforts of his childhood, while it helped a grown-up Peter Pan in Hook reconnect with his sense of imagination.
In The Help, it was a weapon of revenge, while in Babette’s Feast, it was a gift to show solidarity. Lady and the Tramp and Pulp Fiction both used food as flirtation, while Julia Roberts’s character in Eat Pray Love had a flirtation with food itself.
In Marie Antoinette, it was the choice of food that helped denote decadence, while in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, it was a sign of boundless ingenuity. Spinal Tap used food as the trigger for a true rock star diva moment.
In Julie & Julia and Chocolat, meanwhile, food brought peace and satisfaction both to those who prepared it and those who consumed it.
Here are some of the very best uses of food onscreen.
Lady and the Tramp
Who would have guessed that one of the most romantic scenes in cinema would involve two dogs eating scraps in an alleyway? And, yet, the iconic spaghetti kiss from Disney’s 1955 animated film — soundtracked by Sonny Burke and Peggy Lee’s “Bella Notte” — has been oft-imitated but never surpassed. And, as Tramp proves, there’s no greater act of chivalry than offering your date the last meatball.
Gabriel Axel’s Oscar-winning 1987 Danish film is a visual treat for any self-confessed gourmand. The story sees two pious Protestant sisters offer refuge to a French woman fleeing the political tumult in Paris after the collapse of the Second Empire in 1871. They agree to hire her as a housekeeper, discovering later that she’s the former chef of one of Paris’s best restaurants. When she wins the lottery, she uses the funds to whip up an unforgettable meal for her kindly hosts.
All the very best chefs know that a dash of pure imagination is key to creating a true culinary wonder. It’s a lesson well-taught in Steven Spielberg’s 1991 classic, Hook, when a grown-up Peter Pan (Robin Williams) looks on in disbelief as the Lost Boys tuck into what appears to be nothing at all. It’s only when he truly believes that he can see the brightly colour feast laid out before him. And what childish feast would be complete without an old-fashioned food fight?
While there’s been a growing fad of ambitious, unusually themed cakes — you need only look at the success of the TLC reality series Cake Boss — there are few cinematic cakes that stick in the memory like Jackson (Dylan McDermott)’s groom cake from 1989 comedy-drama Steel Magnolias. The armadillo-shaped creation offered a unique spin on the American South tradition of having another cake separate to the main wedding cake. And did we mention that it’s red velvet on the inside?
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Sure, the 1961 film’s title may be a little misleading. In fact, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) only has breakfast outside of Tiffany’s, popping out of a cab in the early morning light to peer into the jewellery shop window, while enjoying a pastry and some coffee in a paper cup. Decades later, the moment still remains the peak of glamour, so who cares if it’s all a little white lie?
It’s a classic scene that proves to be surprisingly instructional. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film has a full-blown recipe tucked within its elegant drama, as Vito Corleone’s close associate, Peter Clemenza (Richard Castellano), offers his version of the perfect pasta sauce. As he explains: “You start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; you make sure it doesn’t stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs. Add a little bit of wine, and a little bit of sugar — that’s my trick.”
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Although the entire 1971 musical is a sugary delight, it is hardest to resist the temptation of Willy Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting Drinks, a soda described as so bubbly that it lifts anyone who drinks it right off the ground. It’s no wonder that it was the one stop on the tour that ended up tempting the pure-hearted Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) and his grandfather (Jack Albertson). Now, the real question is: does it come in different flavours?
For anyone who considers pizza to be the true love of their life, Ryan Murphy’s 2010 romcom is a perfect cinematic match. It’s hard not to relate to the moment Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) bites into a piece of authentic Italian pizza, during the Naples stop on her global adventure of self-discovery, and declares: “I’m in love. I’m in a relationship with my pizza.”
Beauty and the Beast
Although we might not be convinced that the grey stuff on the dinner table in Disney’s 1991 animation is delicious, the “dinner and show” approach to Lumiere (Jerry Orbach)’s hospitality is something we could certainly get used to. Belle (Paige O’Hara) is presented with a whole cavalcade of sumptuous dishes, including beef ragout, cheese souffle, pie and pudding “en flambe”. And there’s a sage piece of advice to go with it. — Independent.