The beginnings of edible cinema...
I’ve been working in film production for most of my adult life, but it’s only recently I’ve begun to actually consume the movies. The first time was an eat-along screening of Mamma Mia! four years ago in a village hall. Dressed in Meryl Streep-style dungarees, teamed with lurex platform boots (classic pairing), I was given a small tray containing a variety of Greek food, each item relevant to a different moment in the film. When Stellan Skarsgård tucked into his lamb kufti, so did the audience. When Pierce Brosnan sang SOS, we ate a slice of ham. And when Colin Firth downed a shot of ouzo, we kept him company. In hindsight, possibly a little too much company.
You need know no more than that the screening was the last eat-along-a-movie allowed in that particular establishment. Despite the regrettable fallout, it was a magnificent 4D experience, and one which is becoming increasingly popular...
Edible Cinema pairs great movies with imaginative food, and gave out vials of ‘poison’ (a gin & absinthe cocktail) to be downed during the climax of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Secret Cinema served up gourmet prison slop to overjoyed customers just before their screening of Shawshank Redemption and offered bratwurst and saurkraut as an appetite whetter for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Might sound unappetising, but it didn’t stop 100,000 people attending their events last year.
Theoretically, the combination works because the visual delights of cinema and the tangible pleasures of eating offer different types of a similar collective experience: the joys of film are visual, while the joys of food are palpable. And unlike the highbrow world of theatre or art, where the presence of food is considered inappropriate, you can do what you like when you’re watching a film.
TV movie nights
Even themed dinners with TV movie nights work well... there’s a real joy in settling down for a curry with Slumdog Millionaire, a paella with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, or a cheeseburger and milkshake with Pulp Fiction. The new series of Orange Is the New Black is crying out for a TV dinner of carrot soup with roasted squash, and every episode of The Crown’s second season should be paired with cucumber sandwiches and dainty scones. I once served a medieval feast of quail and partridge to accompany the gothic TV drama Gormenghast and earlier this year, my children held a party to watch Red Nose Day and only served red food – the kitchen looked like a crime scene for days.
I once hosted a Eurovision Song Contest party, where we attempted to serve a food from each country as that country was performing their song – the food was great, though the show’s performance order was clearly not geared to a culinary logic. It began with some Belgian chocolates, followed by a Swedish meatball, then Germany’s black forest gateau came just before the Italian salami, Swiss chocolate and Greek houmous. The UK provided the bread and Ireland was butter, but sadly they never met in the running order. In desperation we resorted to a shot of vodka for each of the soviet countries. Who knew there were so many?
Edible cinema now
Last month I booked a table at Parlour restaurant in Kensal Green for an edible screening of Notting Hill – a film on which I had worked as script editor. Described as ‘a new way to watch what you eat’, the themed dinner was served in five courses while the film was projected onto the end wall of the dining room. As Tim McInnerny burnt the guinea fowl for Hugh Grant, we ate its perfectly cooked great-grandchild. While Julia Roberts was offered ‘the last brownie’, so were we. And if you’ve seen the film, you may remember the part where the character of Spike is found tucking into some yogurt. ‘This yogurt tastes funny,’ he says halfway through the pot. ‘That’s because it’s mayonnaise,’ says Hugh Grant. At this moment, it transpired the large spoonful of yogurt I had just put into my mouth had been made by Mr Hellman. We should definitely have cut that line.
And later this year, we’re attending a drink-along screening of Withnail & I at a Suffolk festival – a movie where the protagonist gets through nine glasses of wine, six glasses of sherry, 13 whiskys, a pint of cider and a shot of lighter fluid during the course of the 94-minute masterpiece. At this screening, the audience will attempt to drink everything Withnail drinks, though in smaller quantities (and substituting the lighter fluid for vinegar, as Richard E Grant also did during filming). The effect should be irresponsibly funny and at the same time a really bad idea – which should also please the film buffs, because that’s exactly the point the film was making too.
The perfect croque monsieur
Recreating the scene from It's Complicated! where Meryl Streep cooks a croque monsieur for Steve Martin is a perfect storm of food and cinema. As you also know, a perfect croque monsieur is surprisingly hard to achieve: it’s not just a regular toastie – every element needs to be perfect. But once truly mastered, it is the greatest sandwich in the world, with soft sourdough, melty Gruyère, smoked ham and creamy mustard mayo.
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Good Food contributing editor Emma Freud is a journalist and broadcaster, director of Red Nose Day and a co-presenter of Radio Four’s Loose Ends.