I’ve written before about how much my dad loved movies. He died in 1997. When Steve announced this blogathon, where we pick a film to give as a gift to someone, I decided I would pick one made after my dad passed away that I was sure he would have liked.
Seemed like a great idea at first, but initially all I could think of were TV shows he would have liked. He would have adored The Sopranos and Deadwood and Breaking Bad. Would have flipped out over Game of Thrones and Black Sails.
Movies he might have liked made over the last 18 years or so were not so obvious to me at first.
Sure, he liked blockbusters and comedies, but nothing jumped out at me right away as SPECIAL.
Until I remembered how much my dad loved to cook.
He wasn’t exactly a foodie, but he loved to experiment in the kitchen. He would scour the newspaper for recipes, but mostly for inspiration, not to follow to the letter. Everyone we knew wanted to be invited to our house for one of his dinner parties. I especially remember a time he spent hours cleaning out whole calamari that he stuffed with I-have-no-idea-what, only that the dish was delicious, and I’ve never had anything like it since.
Then there was his cheesecake. He was FAMOUS for his cheesecake–well, at least among friends and family. Every time we visited people, they asked if he would bring cheesecake. He never stopped trying to perfect that recipe. He would hover over the oven so he could pull it out of the oven at exactly the right time.
I think he would have loved Pixar’s 2007 film Ratatouille, a story that celebrates creativity and talent, particularly in the kitchen, and how it can come from anyone.
Ratatouille is the tale of a rat (yes, a rat) named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) who has an exceptional sense of smell and taste. Remy hates that he has to eat garbage. He begins to observe humans cooking and learns how to put ingredients together to makes them taste delicious.
His father and brother and the rest of his pack think he’s crazy, of course. While rummaging around one day in a kitchen, the owner catches him and begins blasting a shotgun at Remy and his pack mates. They escape, but Remy is separated from the rest.
Floating on a cookbook written by the late Gusteau (Brad Garrett), a chef Remy particularly admires, he begins to imagine Gusteau is talking to him. Remy realizes he is in Paris and eventually makes his way to Gusteau’s restaurant, now run by a slimy man named Skinner (Ian Holm).
A young and clumsy man named Linguini (Lou Romano) applies for a job at the restaurant. They give him the job of garbage boy. Skinner, who has been using Gusteau’s name to brand a line of cheap international-style frozen foods, expects to inherit the business. He finds out that Linguini may be Gusteau’s son. Terrified he will lose his inheritance, he begins treating the fellow with contempt.
Meanwhile, Remy has snuck into the kitchen to experiment with cooking. He sees Linguini ruin a vat of soup and can’t help himself from fixing it. The soup is a hit with the customers, and the kitchen staff thinks Linguini is responsible.
Linguini figures out the rat is the one who made the soup. Tasked with the job of disposing of Remy after the kitchen staff sees him, Linguini instead makes a deal with Remy to help him do the cooking in the restaurant.
Skinner puts Colette (Janeane Garofalo) in charge of mentoring Linguini. She initially resents Linguini but soon warms up to the task of teaching him how to do things properly. Linguini and Remy work out a system where Remy sits on his head under his chef’s hat and pulls on his hair–much like a puppeteer–to get him to move and cook.
It gets back to food critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole) that Gusteau’s is doing well again. He can’t believe it, since he had written the place off after Gusteau had died.
Remy accidentally runs into his brother and is happy to see his dad and the rest of the pack again. But he is torn between his two worlds. And no matter how talented he is as a chef, there is that little “rats don’t belong in a kitchen” thing that holds him back from his ambition.
As with all of Pixar’s films, the animation is superb, and has the added advantage of the gorgeous city of Paris as a background. Director Brad Bird clearly despises mediocrity (embodied by Skinner, who is willing to use Gusteau’s name to enrich himself by selling garbage to the masses) but also puts forth the notion that even the humblest among us can possess the most extraordinary talents.
The scene that resonated the most with me this viewing was when food critic Ego (can’t get more on-the-nose than that name) tastes a dish of ratatouille prepared for him by Remy. A simple peasant dish, Skinner watching at another table laughs and thinks this is the end of Linguini and Gusteau’s. But the dish immediately brings Ego back to his childhood. He goes into raptures over its brilliance. It’s a defining moment for Ego and for Remy.
This made me think of my dad most of all, because food is not only for sustenance, it can also be memory.
I know he would have been charmed by Remy’s story, and would have identified with his pursuit of excellence in the kitchen. And after watching it, he probably would have started digging up recipes for ratatouille.