The cartoon that could make us all love cooking
It’s no surprise that the summer of 2007’s hottest family film was Disney’s latest masterpiece. But what may come as a surprise is that a Disney cartoon would be a significant contribution to the culinary world.
Disney’s Ratatouille is, in my estimation, the finest culinary film ever made. Who would have thought we’d cheer on rats in the kitchen? Who would have thought cartoon food could be as gorgeous as the real thing? Who would have dreamed we’d glean cooking technique from a Disney flick?
Ratatouille is the story of Remy, a rat with the palate of a supertaster. Through a series of mishaps sparked by a search for saffron threads – yep, Remy can not only taste, he can cook – Remy finds himself in the kitchen of France’s most celebrated chef, Gusteau. (The chef is a bit of a cross between Wolfgang Puck and the tragic figure of Bernard L’Oiseau.) Unfortunately, Gusteau is no longer with us and his former sous chef is running the restaurant into the ground. Remy, the five-star rat, saves the day in true Disney fashion, with a few kid-friendly plot twists along the way.
The film addressed almost every issue plaguing the restaurant industry today: the disrespect shown to women chefs in fine dining kitchens; the sickening level of power wielded by critics; the slippery slope to selling out; the tension between front and back of house staff; jealousy and arrogance. The cartoon cooks even sported faded burns and scars on their hands. (It should come as no surprise that the film’s creators grilled Anthony Bourdain on the “dark side” of professional kitchens about two years prior to the film’s production). If only the characters had bribed the health inspector instead of allowing him to shut down the restaurant, I think they would have hit on all the hot points.
Ratatouille’s greatest moment occurs when France’s most feared critic inhales the aroma of Remy’s ratatouille. (The recipe used for the film is a French Laundry creation based on an old recipe by my culinary hero, Michel Guerard.) In this moment this simple, kid-friendly conveys the intrinsic link between food and memory with simplicity and the perfect dose of poignancy. The moment is a gorgeous celebration of culinary artistry and a vivid reminder of how closely the cook and the critic are linked. Most of all, it is a moment of hope. Perhaps we can cure many of the world’s ills if we just sit down together and share the memories of meals.
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