SIFF Double Feature – Cooking Up a Tribute and The Muses of Bashevis Singer
Cooking up a Tribute: El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Catalonia, Spain is considered my many to be the best restaurant in the world. It is run by the three Roca brothers: Joan the head chef, Josep the sommelier, and Jordi the dessert man. Directed by Luis Gonzalez and Andrea Gómez, Cooking Up a Tribute is a new documentary that looks at a six-month period of time where the Roca brothers prepare for a cooking tour of the Americas. Rather than just fixing the Catalan dishes they are known for, they send Josep as an advance man to Mexico, Columbia, and Peru to scout out the regional cuisines. He brings back local ingredients and new preparation methods to inspire the chefs back in Girona to create 57 new dishes to take on the road. The first half of the film records Josep’s journey, and the second half shows the behind-the-scenes work in the kitchen to incorporate the new flavors. They then close down their restaurant for five weeks and take the entire staff across the world to cook for the people who have inspired them.
This was a very enjoyable film. I could spend a lot of time watching Josep Roca travel around the world and eat food. It’s obvious that he and his brothers are very good at what they do, but they seem to emphasize teamwork and collaboration over the glory of being celebrity chefs. (And they are indeed celebrities.) It is fun to watch their team work. And of course the food is lovely to look at. But more importantly, the filmmakers show some of the trial and error that takes place to create such mini masterpieces. Nothing is instantly perfect; these guys work very hard at what they do. The film also looks at the food movements currently happening in Central and South America. France and Spain are no longer ascendant in the food scene as local flavors and indigenous preparations take center stage. People all over the world are starting to focus on regional flavors rather than being part of a homogenous world cuisine. This film is not just for foodies (although it’s totally for them), but also for those who just enjoy watching people do what they love.
Final Grade: B+
Cooking Up a Tribute plays at the Harvard Exit on June 2 and 4.
The Muses of Bashevis Singer: Born in 1902, Polish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, emigrated to the United States in 1935. He wrote for the Yiddish newspaper The Forward, but eventually – due to his English translations – his work reached outside the Yiddish-speaking Jewish population, netting him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978. Singer blurred the lines between fiction and autobiography, and many of the situations in his complicated love life were mirrored in his stories and books. Always a lover of women, he not only had a wife left behind in Poland, but one in the U.S., a mistress for 30 years, and a bevy of female translators, many of whom he was rumored to have made love to. Because his English translations were vitally important in increasing his readership, he spent a lot of time in the company of these women. He would read his story aloud, searching for the right English words as he went along. His translators would type as he dictated, collaborating with him to find the best words and phrases. Even as he got older, he liked to surround himself with young women, and it appears he got inspiration from them even if they didn’t want to give him anything more than that.
This is an informative, warts-and-all look at a complicated man. He wanted fame and women (maybe not in that order) and he got both by writing insightful and masterful stories in a dying language. The interviews in this film are honest rather than kind, and they paint a portrait of a man who depended greatly on the skills of others, but who was slightly loath to give them as much credit as they might have deserved. The quality of his stories was such that he was able to always find translators, and no one seems to bear him a huge grudge for being a player. The film also deals with his feminist legacy (he wrote the original story for Yentl) and while he had a wife who always stood by him and a mistress to inspire, he also relied on women of intellect for the core of his work. I haven’t read Singer since I was in high school, and this was interesting enough to generate a desire in me to seek out more of his work. Not just for bibliophiles, this film is for anyone interested in a little known piece of a famous man’s life.
Final Grade: B
The Muses of Bashevis Singer plays at the SIFF Cinema Uptown on June 4 and the Harvard Exit on June 7.