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July 8, 2011 10:18 pm
Were you one of the lucky ones who caught Gordon Ramsay’s first foray into movie acting last weekend? No? Thought not. Love’s Kitchen, a sub-Curtis British rom-com about a chef and a restaurant critic, appeared in a few cinemas from Friday and featured the shouty hash-slinger in a brief cameo. This courageous piece of casting seems to have attracted disproportionate critical attention to the film which is, by all accounts, a poorly stuffed, massively overdeveloped, hand-reared Kelly Bronze of a turkey. According to box office figures, the film grossed £121 over the weekend, meaning fewer than 20 people actually paid to see it before it executed a perfect swan-dive into blissful cinematic oblivion.
It seems that every screenwriter who’s ever had a summer job bussing tables has wondered at the tremendously rich narrative possibilities of life in the restaurant kitchen. The passion, the commitment, the triumphs and failures, the intense, fiery relationships and artistic temperaments acted out by a bunch of hot young people – most of whom are resting actors anyway – against a backdrop of stainless steel and flaming pans. Hell, that’s almost a pitch … this stuff writes itself! Which is probably the problem and why, after dozens of well thought out attempts, we still don’t have a movie that portrays half the excitement of life behind the line.
Dinner Rush, a small American film released in 2000 comes closest, for me, to the actual experience of working in a kitchen, but then the director, Bob Giraldi, owned the restaurant in which it was shot and, by the look of it, most of the young cast members were probably going back to a very similar shift when each day’s shooting wrapped.
It is far more usual for any attempt to get a well-known star into whites to dissolve into slow-motion horror within a few scenes. Who can forget Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart as chefs in the immortal No Reservations (2007)? Actually, to be fair, who can remember them? Trust me, no chef can stay that clean.
It’s rumoured that the master of gritty, realistic food writing, Tony Bourdain, is currently penning kitchen scenes for Treme, the new cult TV series from the producers of The Wire. With luck these will turn out to be towering triumphs of the screenwriter’s art – and therefore may do something to put to rest the memory of Kitchen Confidential – an awful sitcom cobbled together from his brilliant book of the same name, which dragged its tragic, broken carcass through a single series back in 2005. I’m not holding my breath.
The truth is that having a star play a chef will always ring hollow. They love to play the creative passion of the “chef as an artist” but seem incapable of portraying the other side – the obsessive, hair-trigger-tempered craftsman hacking out food in an environment constantly teetering on the lip of physical, emotional and financial meltdown. For most actors that role must be too painfully like their own careers.
Tim Hayward is editor of Fire & Knives and co-winner of the Guild of Food Writers’ Broadcast Award for an edition of Radio 4’s ‘The Food Programme’
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