These five movies and shows not only offer a feast for the eyes with their sumptuous cuisines, but also explore how food fosters meaningful connections between people from all walks of life.
Food offers a lot more than just tasty treats and sensory experiences (though those aspects are certainly important). As many know, cuisine is also a conduit for fostering human connections: from special feasts at family gatherings to simple lunches with friends, delicious meals are gateways to cultures, traditions, and enlightening conversations. Many great creative minds understand this universal truth, and have portrayed cuisine as a mouth-watering visual experience that bridges the gap between classes, generations, cultures, and the like for years. If you’re looking for movies and shows with compelling narratives about the power of a good meal, below are five tantalizing selections to add to your queue:
The 1987 Danish film Babette’s Feast might not be a familiar title to younger generations, but many epicureans and cinephiles remember it as the winner for Best Foreign Language Film in 1988’s Academy Awards. Its premise is a simple one, never extending beyond the confines of a small Danish village, in the home of a pastor’s two elderly daughters.
The film begins when the daughters, Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Filippa (Bodil Kjer), accept Babette Hersant (Stéphane Audran)—a Franco-Prussian war refugee—into their home. Their community is a small and conservative one, which slowly accepts Babette as she works as a cook for over a decade. One day, Babette wins 10,000 francs in a lottery, and is determined to prepare an exquisite French dinner in honor of the pastor’s hundredth birthday.
Though the sisters and their congregation are hesitant to indulge in such a worldly experience, they agree to sit for the meal. Babette whips up a multi-course feast that looks extraordinary, with a care and precision that mesmerizes. The meal itself leads to conversation that connects the guests like never before, showcasing how food can be a spiritual experience as much as a physical one. Babette doesn’t reveal her mysterious past until the movie’s touching ending, yet the journey to that point is so heartfelt and captivating, one certainly won’t mind the wait.
With FX’s The Bear winning multiple awards on its second season, those who haven’t caught up might want to consider doing so. There’s been a lot of discourse on whether the series is a comedy or heart-pumping drama, but regardless of where one stands in the discussion, it’s a rollicking ride through and through.
Jeremy Allen White plays Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, a chef who leaves the world of fine dining to run his family’s Chicago sandwich shop. Seems simple enough, except it’s anything but that. Hilariously (or not), the intense work needed to run any high-end establishment applies to even a simple landmark sandwich shop, as Carmy navigates the ups and downs of adjusting to a new environment with his motley kitchen crew, including fellow talented chef Sydney Adamu (played by Ayo Edebiri).
Can Carmy transform the small establishment with a Michelin-star worthy system, or will it all crash and burn? Chaos ensues, as is the trope in many culinary dramas, but one can’t help but cheer the crew on. Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone describes it as the “Most Stressful Thing on TV Right Now,” yet adds “It’s Also Great,” which is perhaps the most succinct way to describe the beloved original series.
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories
Netflix’s Midnight Diner series contains episodic and self-contained narratives that paint a bigger picture of an intriguing food stall in Tokyo that only opens from midnight to 7:00 am. Patrons from all walks of life visit the establishment, bonding over the scrumptious Japanese staples served by the diner’s chef and owner, whom guests simply refer to as “The Master.”
In the series, food is a gateway to each character’s past and lived experiences, fostering a deeper connection with themselves and the other patrons around them. This is because The Master creates any kind of dish they want, a basic rule that reveals something about every guest. From a mother’s creamy potato salad to smoky yakisoba, each dish is a meaningful visual feast.
Some patrons include a police officer, crossdresser, Yakuza boss, exotic dancer, and salaryman, just to name a few. Despite their different backgrounds, characters all hold particular dishes close to their hearts, once again showcasing the emotional and spiritual importance of food in everyday life. The series was so well-received that two movies were made after its release, one in 2014 and a sequel in 2016, which both feature much of the same cast members.
No list about beautiful food-centric movies is complete without Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille. The premise seems quite silly: Remy the rat dreams of being the greatest chef in Paris, and ends up banding together with Linguine, a man without any culinary experience. Together, they create fine dining dishes without anyone suspecting Remy as the genius behind them. As expected, they make waves, with many people—especially food critic Antoine Ego—surprised at Linguine’s rise to fame.
Some might dismiss the film as one for children, but it’s perhaps among the most profound culinary pieces out there, giving many other movies and shows a run for their money. Those who’ve watched it are likely to attest to this, as the film delves into the meaning of talent, creativity, and passion, as well as the powerful truth that good food can, indeed, come from anywhere.
Many foodies might remember how delicious the animated ratatouille looked—as well as the other meals like Remy’s soup. After all, the film’s artists relied on the culinary expertise of an actual chef, Thomas Keller, as per Alan Siegel of Ringer.
The final movie on the list is Jon Favreu’s emotional comedy film, Chef. If its high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes are any indication, both audiences and critics loved the movie. Here, Jon Favreu plays Carl Casper, a chef who dreams of creating more innovative dishes than those he usually serves at the fine dining restaurant he works in. Sadly, his vision clashes with that of the restaurant’s owner, Riva, which eventually leads to a series of incidents that result in Carl’s termination as chef.
Still, despite the challenges, Carl opens up a food truck serving creative and flavorful Cuban cuisine like sandwiches, reigniting his passion for cooking alongside a fellow colleague and his teen son, Percy. Like the other movies and shows on this list, it’s a film that focuses on food’s power to connect people—from family and friends to patrons. Just make sure to eat before watching it, as its variety of rich Cuban cuisine will surely leave your stomach growling.
Banner photo from The Midnight Diner via the Netflix website.