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These Food Flicks Nourish D.C. Chefs’ Souls

Cooking vets weigh in on how Hollywood frames hospitality

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[Victor Moussa/Shutterstock]

Tinsel Town Sunday is scheduled to heap praise on the actors, directors, cinematographers and best boys (sweet title) that worked in concert to make this year’s crop of Oscar nominees stand out from every other film that fought for moviegoers’ hard earned dollars over the past year.

And while there is nothing in the vein of Jiro Dreams of Sushi (or even a Juan Likes Rice and Chicken) for members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to enshrine in the annals of culinary edutainment, Eater polled local chefs and restaurateurs about the most stirring — or stomach-turning (as the case might be) — portrayals of the profession ever committed to celluloid.

Sources of inspiration ran the gamut. (Akira Kurosawa, anyone?).

One unifying factor: every respondent seemed to enjoy playing critic for a change.

Antonio Burrell, Petit Louis Bistro

Chef Antonio Burrell.
[Sazon]

Veteran chef Antonio Burrell has made the rounds in the D.C hospitality scene. It makes perfect sense that his favorite food movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey, has an element of travel to it — as well as a zest for bucking the establishment.

The dramatic treatment of the trade that absolutely sticks in his craw: No Reservations.

“That steak stabbing scene … ridiculous,” he said.

Todd Gray, Equinox

Chef Colin McClimans, Harrison Gray and Equinox founder Todd Gray at Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Va.
[Adele Chapin]

Restaurateur Todd Gray reveres both Ratatouille and Big Night for faithfully depicting the level of commitment required to excel in the culinary world.

The most unexpected source of inspiration he’s drawn from happens to be a talking pig.

“It made my wife quit eating meat forever. I find that pretty compelling and very potent,” Gray said of the children’s movie Babe.

He joined others in throwing cold water on Burnt (“It’s just wrong on so many levels,” he assessed), and then proposed one of the most insider-y titles for his own star turn.

How to Hold a Knife for 40 Years … And Not Cut Yourself,” is how he summed up his professional career.

That meticulousness extends to Gray’s party planning as well. Celebrating the film’s premiere would require jetting to exotic locales, as Gray fancies having a meal either at Berggasthaus Aescher-WIldkirchli, a guest house carved into a Swiss mountainside, or The Rock, a restaurant jutting out of the Indian Ocean off the the coast of Tanzania.

Michael Bonk, The Bird

Nose-to-tail enthusiast Michael Bonk.
[Michael Bonk]

Deconstructing animals is what chef Michael Bonk is best known for. But the budding restaurateur didn’t hesitate at the chance to dissect the film world.

He billed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as an important piece of his childhood. “I fell in love with the realm Wonka created in the factory where anything [you] dream can become a reality,” he said.

Hollywood has also given him nightmares.

Case in point: watching the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard murder health codes as a fry cook in State Property 2.

“That scene has always made me cringe,” Bonk said.

Were a movie deal to come his way, Bonk seems inclined to go the eponymous route, floating “Getting Bonked” as the most apropos title.

“When guests who know me come into the restaurant and allow me to choreograph their experience, some of them call it getting Bonked,” he said of his signature cooking style. There are also parallels, he explained, to Charlie Brown cartoons. “When someone gets hit in the head, the cartoon often used "bonk" in the caption. I've definitely done enough stupid things in my life to make it harder,” Bonk said,

And don’t forget about the disorientation that often plagues endurance athletes during grueling races — or “running out of gas,” as Bonk put it.

“I'm nowhere near my wall yet, so that might not apply,” he said.

Rob Weland, Garrison

Garrison co-founders Amy Garrett and Rob Weland.
[Rob Weland]

Uplifting as it may be to some, restaurateur Rob Weland holds Big Night in high regard for the low points it lays bare.

“I think all chefs can relate to Primo, who's trying so hard to create awesome food and has customers asking for spaghetti and meatballs instead,” he said.

A veteran of the D.C. hospitality scene, Weland remains fascinated by “anything that portrays the culinary profession as easy or glamorous and not just ‘head down, work hard.’”

“I think I saw The Devil Wears Prada on TV once, and the boyfriend of the main character was a rising chef in one of the new best places in Manhattan. He was upset because his girlfriend worked too much in the fashion magazine business and never had time for him. He was always getting out of work early looking fresh as a daisy and upset because she couldn't meet him for a drink or dinner,” Weland said.

“That's ridiculous. It's usually the other way around,” he posited.

No need to rush out a biopic about his career. These things, much like his own rise through the culinary ranks, require great care and methodical planning, Weland said. That’s why the movie about his life would have to be called, “The Longest Stage.”

“It took me a long time to get to a place where I felt I was ready to open my own [restaurant]. And all these younger guys were beating me to it,” Weland said. “But, there's great value in taking your time to learn the craft, the profession and the business. I'm glad I got the chance to do that.”

Celebrating hard earned success too mandates careful consideration.

Weland’s dream film premiere getaway: dining “on a breezy patio somewhere overlooking the Mediterranean that served a lot of foie gras and Chateau d’Yquem.”

I'm a traditionalist at heart,” he asserted.

Tarver King, Restaurant at Patowmack Farm

Restaurant at Patwomack Farm chef Tarver King.
[Tarver King]

Chef and artist Tarver King served up a buffet of thought-provoking food films, ticking off favorites ranging from pitch-black comedy Delicatessen to crime thriller The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.

His affinity for the latter, however, has more to do with the setting than the provocative subject matter.

“It was the inspiration for the design of the Inn at Little Washington kitchen! It's working in that kitchen where my wife and I met,” he gushed. “So it was really cool to see that movie.”

His hands down favorite, though, is Dinner Rush.

He freely admits it hasn’t aged well (“The food is a tad dated now,” he conceded). But the indie film thrusts King right back into his own hardscrabble existence during the same period

“This movie is one of the only movies my wife and I owned on VHS when we were staging at the [French] Laundry, and moving to South Carolina to be dirt poor line cooks. So we would try and get channels to watch with an antenna, or watch Dinner Rush, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail for about three or four years,” he said of his incredibly lean media diet. “It means a lot to see it now.”

King’s more caught up these days.

Not that that’s always a good thing.

Burnt ... what the hell was that BS? I must shuck a million oysters to punish myself?” he vented via email. “I want to punch the writers sometimes.”.

Being put under the microscope by a film crew, King cautioned, isn’t really his style.

Shining a light on the craft of cooking — perhaps under the title “I Arted” — sounds much more appealing.

“A comical take on the world of cooking and art? I actually thought this would be a cool doc,” he suggested.

Celebratory destinations are in no short supply around here. For King, it’s just a matter of actually making it there.

“I've been wanting to eat at Bad Saint for a long time. Or Komi … [but] every time my wife and I get into the city we end up at Little Serow,” he shared. “It's so freaking tasty that we don't make it upstairs! Maybe one day we will.”

Dean Gold, Dino’s Grotto

Dino’s Grotto owner Dean Gold.
[Official]

Restaurateur Dean Gold seems to be of the mindset that god is in the details.

That might explain why Big Night didn’t pass the smell test with him — “The kitchen was way too big,” he said — but a flick about a down-and-out samurai getting all worked up during a meal resonates so deeply.

Yojimbo by [Akira] Kurosawa isn't a food movie per se, but the scenes of Toshiro Mifune eating in the pub are crucial,” Gold maintains, adding that the entire storyline later turns during a pivotal sake drinking scene.

The best way to sum up his life story, per Gold, would be in a film called, “From Here to Obscurity.”

“It has just the right ring,” Gold suggested.

A premiere, he said, would be as good a reason as any to jet over to Italy for a taste of the old county. His venue of choice: “The restaurant that occupies the artist Tintoretto's store room. Amazing food served at picnic tables with plastic chairs in a place full of history fits my weird aesthetic,” he said.

Eric Reid, Del Ray Pizzeria

Del Ray Pizzeria chef Eric Reid.
[Eric Reid]

Gastro-realist Eric Reid believes Hollywood should quit with the potentially hazardous shortcuts it often shows on screen.

“Sautéing without a towel? Grabbing that hot pan barehanded gets me every time,” he shared via email. “Go ahead and try. You'll learn real fast.”

His whimsy, it turns out, is reserved for more enticing pursuits: specifically, the “every flavour beans” that pop up in the Harry Potter universe.

“C'mon, imagine that!” he said of the wizarding wonders.

The real question is whether he’d share the otherworldly treats with those he loves most: his restaurant peeps.

“I began my career at Evening Star Cafe, left and opened my own, Del Merei Grille and am now the chef at Del Ray Pizzeria/Reserve. Throughout my tenure the staff has always been part of my family,” Reid said. “Nothing would be possible without them.”

Reid said any movie about his career trajectory would have to be called, “Mis Families and Me,” and would have to showcase the various front- and back-of-the-house personnel he’s surrounded himself with over the years.”Each and all has had a special impact on my career,” he said.

As for a premiere party, that would have to remain hyperlocal.

“Red carpet has to be at RT's,” he said.

Tiffany MacIsaac, Buttercream Bakeshop

Buttecream Bakeshop founder Tiffany MacIsaac (center).
[Nahem Simon]

Pastry maven Tiffany MacIsaac gets all charged up even just talking about Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

“It perfectly depicts the countless hours spent in the kitchen, the importance of leading by example and the challenge of refining techniques that may seem inconsequential but ultimately separate the best from the rest,” she said of the unflinching documentary, adding that it reinforced her desire to “constantly tweak, change and try to perfect your craft.”

She gives Chef a pass in terms of realism on the cooking front, mostly because it honors the dynamic nature of the profession. “The relationship between the chef and his cooks was spot on. The shit talking was perfect,” she assessed.

Not to mention it’s treatment of the uncertainty every chef wrestles with at one time or another. “The feeling of leaving a job that’s sucking your soul away and taking all the joy out of cooking, but then reconnecting with what you first loved about food is something most chefs can relate to,” MacIsaac said.

The only way she could watch her own life unspool on film would be if the producers agreed to run with “Top Knot.”

In addition to the sentimental value — “[It] was actually the second runner-up for my bakery and almost the name of our signature Cinnascone,” she said of the moniker — Top Knot is very much part of her identity. “It also speaks to my bun hairstyle that I wear on the top of my head every day at work,” MacIsaac said.

Although she said celebrating a movie premiere should warrant stepping out to one of the buzzier places around town that he has yet to experience (minibar and Metier are both on her short-list), MacIsaac suspects sticking within her comfort zone would ultimately win out.

“I’d probably go to The Source and eat all the duck … wearing a top knot of course,” she said.

Erik Bruner-Yang, Maketto

Maketto founder Erik Bruner-Yang.
[Kaun Rei]

The budding restaurateur said family is what’s most important to him. To this day, Eat Drink Man Woman still tugs at his heartstrings

I hope to cook dinners like that for my daughter one day,” Bruner-Yang said of Ang Lee’s valentine to paternal love.

Sappy stuff, on the other hand, is wasted on him. Hence the reason Bruner-Yang panned the remake of Mostly Martha and Burnt.

Sharing the spotlight is the only way Bruner-Yang could see a biopic working.

“Because behind every great chef or restaurateur is a wife or partner, a family, someone, that makes sacrifices and silently supports you while you chase the big dream,” he said, stressing that his flick would have to be called, “Nak Yang.”

“That's the real depiction of what it's like to be a chef in the modern world,” he said of the team effort required to succeed in the hospitality world.

His playground of choice to commemorate an appearance on the big screen?

A burger chain best known for its bottomless fries.

“I would dine at Red Robin — where I once worked back in the early days — with my family and friends. There would be a buffet of chicken fingers and honey mustard,” he suggested. “That, or just a backyard bbq with someone else manning the grill.”

Scott Drewno, The Source

[Official]

Dim sum master Scott Drewno likes his humor dry.

That’s why the farcical The Dinner Game kills him every time. The French comedy, which was remade here as Dinner for Schmucks, focuses on mean people, dopey situations and, of course, just deserts.

Drewno takes the pacing of meals very seriously. Which is why he was unable to hold his tongue about the “snake surprise” scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

“Those snakes were so undercooked,” he quipped.

Getting the Hollywood treatment is, evidently, something Source staff ponders on a regular basis. “We've been playing the ‘If the Source were a movie who would play you"? game for a long time here,” Drewno shared. “I've long said Jason Statham would play me. However the team decided Bull [actor Richard Moll] from Night Court would get the role.”

Jon Taub, Bub and Pop’s

Bub and Pop’s co-founders Arlene Wagner and Jon Taub.
[Cheryl Taub Pliskin/Facebook]

Philly native Jon Taub stuck close to home in selecting his go-to food porn, tagging the documentary King Georges — which chronicles the career of chef Georges Perrier, founder of the award-winning but now-shuttered Le Bec-Fin — as must-see entertainment.

“Chef Perrier is a legend and I always admired his no nonsense approach to cooking,” Taub said of the revered restaurateur. “On top of that he has the chops to back it up — and is an Eagles fan!”

Taub said he tries to keep an open mind whenever cooking sequences flash across a screen. “Even if the scenario is completely unrealistic, I tend to find a common ground that makes it familiar to me,” he suggested.

Were a producer to hunt him down, Taub voted to have his life story branded as “Cooked in the Kitchen.”

“Because I like to pride myself on actually cooking, not just walking around in a white coat with my name on it,” he said.

Taub could do without the whole red carpet thing, though. He’d rather have a premiere party on the beach in Negril, Jamaica “with a lot of my friends.”

Jacques Haeringer, L’Auberge Chez Francois

L’Auberge Chez Francois owner Jacques Haeringer.
[Tim Ebner]

The Alsatian chef has a soft spot for French cooking. Which is why he’s transported to his happy place whenever Babette’s Feast comes on.

In the film you see the beauty and decadence of classic French food as well as a chef’s passion for making a perfect meal,” he said of the Oscar winning movie.

According to Haeringer, the film perfectly captures “the humor and comradery that come from good food and wine.”

“To me, creating those magical moments is what being a chef is all about,” he said.

Something Haeringer simply cannot suspend disbelief about: ample down time.

“Any movie that shows even a moment of serenity for a chef in the kitchen is certainly laughable. There are always 10 things for a chef to do,” he quipped.

Haeringer said any biopic about this career would undoubtedly be an emotional journey. “Romance is our raison d'être at L’Auberge Chez François and that is the story of my life,” he said, floating Two for Tonight as a prospective title. “As I always say, ‘Roses smell fine, candy taste sweet, but a romantic repast is a much better treat.’”

Christophe Poteaux, Bastille

Bastille co-founder Christophe Poteaux.
[Austin Fausett]

Big Night appeals to restaurateur Christophe Poteaux’s competitive nature.

Dubbing it the “quintessential chef movie,” Poteaux praises the Horatio Alger-like tale of two immigrant brothers attempting to pull together the perfect evening for conveying “why we do what we do.”

The rom-com-y No Reservations, on the other hand, rang hollow.

“The work conditions and situations are ridiculous,” Poteaux asserted, adding, “Those two seem to never work and always have time to relax and play.”

Jesse Miller, Bar Pilar

[Official]

Miller, who wound up holding down the fort at Bar Pilar last week during the area-wide #ADayWithoutImmgirants strike, enjoys feel-good fare that pours on the goofiness extra thick.

Yes, he tipped his cap to Jiro. And he also gave a shout out to the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (“Just a fun movie,” he shared.) But he said he takes the greatest pleasure in watching the late John Candy put his heart and soul into an over-the-top birthday meal in Uncle Buck.

“There is a scene where he's dancing around to music and singing while making breakfast. That's how I like to cook,” Miller said.

His least favorite take on the restaurant biz? That would have to be the vermin-led children’s movie Ratatouille.

“A RAT!” he relayed via email, adding, “I have nightmares about that shit.”

Asked how his own story would play out on the silver screen, MIller served up a few options. The dueling titles he came up with included Hungry for the Hustle — “I’m pretty sure I actually just enjoy kicking my own ass all day every day,” he said of his work ethic — or Togarashi, Tequila and Tacos.

Should La La Land come a-calling, Miller suggested keeping things simple: a screening at Hollywood Cinemas in his hometown of Arbutus, Md. “ It’s not fancy or big or anything, but I have a lot of memories there from growing up and it would be cool to have it premiere with family and friends close by,” he said.

David Guas, Bayou Bakery

[Official]

Restaurateur cum reality cooking vet David Guas said he appreciates the entrepreneurial spirit at the heart of cult favorite Chef.

“More and more each day my chef friends take the jump, like me, from the structured formal kitchen environment to a more gratifying approach. They want to grab creativity and be more free-spirited, hence all the more casual restaurants or pop-ups happening,” he said.

He ranked Ratatouille second “as it shows the endless passion for this business and the need for a chef to bring joy to oneself and others through satisfying food.”

Guas dumped on food programming that meddles with the cooking process — “These new shows where you run around the store with a grocery cart or cook with crap products is not what a real chef aspires to be representing,” he counseled — rather than focusing on the craft.

Were cameras to begin rolling on his life story, the Louisiana native said Soul Survivor or Soul Bowl might be fitting tributes; he credits his Aunt Boo with teaching him how to fend for himself in the kitchen.

“From being smacked by a fly-swatter to peeling shrimp and whisking sauces in a bowl, she empowered me to reach into my soul and find my place in the kitchen,” he said.

Guas said he’d mark any appearance on the big screen right back in Aunt Boo’s fishing camp. Should he need more space, “I would set up shop with big screens on the levee with a huge crawfish boil.”

Bastille

606 North Fayette Street, , VA 22314 (703) 519-3776 Visit Website

Equinox

818 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington DC, DC 20006

The Bird

1337 11th Street Northwest, , DC 20001 (202) 518-3609 Visit Website

The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm

42461 Lovettsville Road, , VA 20180 (540) 822-9017 Visit Website

Dino's Grotto

1914 9th Street Northwest, , DC 20001 (202) 686-2966 Visit Website

The Source by Wolfgang Puck

575 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, , DC 20565 (202) 637-6100 Visit Website

L'Auberge Chez Francois

332 Springvale Road, , VA 22066 (703) 759-3800 Visit Website

Garrison

101 Red River Street, , TX 78701 (512) 600-2000 Visit Website

Bar Pilar

1833 14th Street Northwest, , DC 20009 (202) 265-1751 Visit Website

Del Ray Pizzeria

2218 Mt Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22301 703 549 2999 Visit Website

Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery

1515 North Courthouse Road, , VA 22201 (703) 243-2410 Visit Website

Bub and Pop's

1815 M Street Northwest, , DC 20036 (202) 457-1111 Visit Website

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