Drama in the kitchen, drama in the dining room, drama at the table.
This is perhaps why actors work as waiters, why people like to eat out, and why directors and writers create movies which have food as a focus. Cooking a meal, or following a recipe, is a combination of science and poetry. There are directions to follow, and moments of expression and art.
In film, food weaves drama and poetry into a story. Characters are revealed in the way they cook, the way they eat, the way they treat a waiter, the way they seduce a lover.
Think about the prison scene in Goodfellas, where mobsters meticulously prepare a classic Italian-American ragù. Or Paul Newman defiantly eating 50 hard-boiled eggs in Cool Hand Luke. We see Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly staring at the windows of Tiffany’s with a croissant, coming back from who knows where, and immediately we know more about her than just a young woman gazing at jewels.
Food conveys anger, love, horror and humour.
Woody Allen, in Bananas, prepares to join Central American revolutionaries by ordering a take out of 1000 grilled cheese sandwiches and 700 cups of coffee from a New York delicatessen. In Big Night, resilience and compassion are revealed in the morning-after scene when Stanley Tucci cracks three eggs and cooks a frittata, to share with a waiter and his brother—a five-minute long sequence—making you cry and making you hungry.
Food plays a role in some films due to its absence. The cinema of Rossellini (Rome, Open City, Paisan) depicts a nation in poverty. In Empire of the Sun, JG Ballard conveys growing up among food shortages in a World War II internment camp.
But, ultimately, I like to think that whatever the context, food is about generosity and hope.
Some summers ago, walking in Venice, Richard and I stopped for dinner at a trattoria on the Giudecca. The risotto primavera was delicate, the Valpolicella crisp and cold, the sun was setting.
Sitting there, I felt like I was in a scene from one of the best movies ever made.
Ruthie Rogers is a chef who currently runs the renowned Italian restaurant, The River Café in London.