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Reel Cuisine: Blockbuster Dishes from the Silver Screen
December 23, 2011

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this slim volume connecting movies and food. It’s described as “bringing cinematic dishes to life”, so I was anticipating recipes for big, fancy meals that serve as centerpieces for films. Instead, what I got was a lot more down to earth and homey — and recipes that are more achievable.

Author Nami Iijima is a professional food stylist, someone whose job it is to create meals for the screen that look good. These recipes come from her column for a Japanese magazine in which she aimed “to faithfully recreate the dishes shown in various films so as to appease film fans and movie buffs.” Many of her choices are from slice-of-life movies, so if you’re looking for more fantastic fare, look elsewhere.

The book is grouped into several loosely themed sections. The first, featuring dishes she created for films she worked on, will be the most confusing for American readers, since they likely have never heard of the movies, let alone seen them, while the dishes are an odd mix of Japanese specialties (seaweed bento, vegetable chirashi sushi) and American basics (chicken nuggets, cinnamon rolls). They use complicated techniques and, in the Japanese food, unfamiliar ingredients. I think I would have put this section last, with more editorial explanation, since the remaining sections are much more comprehensible, consisting of brunch dishes, family dinners, desserts, and international fare.

Each recipe is printed with a short plot description of the associated film and sometimes an author’s note about the dish. These may clarify a technique or mention ingredient substitutions. Only a limited number of the recipes — those printed with tan background instead of white — talk about why the particular dish was selected to represent the film. I wish we’d had those notes on all of the recipes, because sometimes, I thought the choices were odd or just plain wrong. For instance, for Fried Green Tomatoes, she provides instructions for fried chicken. That’s likely of more interest to readers (especially those in Japan) who actually want to make the food, but I would have expected at least an acknowledgement of why you aren’t telling us how to make the title dish.

Also, the recipe specifies chicken thighs, while the picture clearly shows a drumstick. Which, yes, is more evocative, but disconnects between the food shown and the method described always make me suspicious of cookbooks that play fast and loose that way. Some of her steps are similarly missing in details. For instance, in the hamburger recipe, Iijima advises cooking the burgers for a total of 2 1/2 minutes. I’d have expected her to be more specific about how thick her patties are, because I typically cook hamburgers for more like 10 minutes (because I do not enjoy eating raw ground beef or food poisoning) and they still come out pink in the middle. Other recipes advise cooking “until cooked through”, which can be difficult to determine without some time guidelines.

I was surprised at the number of recipes for basic dishes, including fish and chips, pancakes, popcorn, tuna salad sandwiches, and green salad. Often, I found the connection between the recipe and movie somewhat nebulous. Why guacamole for Bridget Jones’ Diary? Waitress is all about making dessert pies, so why a recipe for quiche? Tampopo features the search for the perfect ramen, yet we’re told how to make fried rice instead. In Stranger Than Fiction, one of the characters is often seen making cookies, so I expected that recipe, not one for banana cake.

Some of the food choices are perfect, though, like the Chicken Meatball Pho for Good Morning Vietnam or spaghetti for The Godfather: Part III or truffles for Chocolat or ratatouille (guess). Other recipes range widely, through pot au feu (with boiled chicken, not beef), paella, chili, hummus, roast chicken, yakisoba, and various pastas. I don’t see myself cooking from this book, since the dishes I’d want to make are already well-known to me, but as a reminder of the connections between food and film, it would make a great novelty gift for the movie buff. Many of the films are international, so most readers will find some listed that are unfamiliar to them, the better to seek out and try. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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