Yale history professor and Pelham resident Paul Freedman specializes in the history of food, medieval and modern. He has written the book Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination and edited Food: The History of Taste. Here, the professional foodie shares his five top films about his favorite subject.
1) Big Night (1996)
Freedman says Big Night, about a pair of neighboring Italian restaurants in the 1950s—one serves up wonderful food but little atmosphere and the other mediocre fare but in a festive ambience—is a parable about the restaurant business. “The movie has everything—interesting characters, plot twists, warm atmosphere, and astounding food preparation.”
2) A Chef in Love (1996)
Freedman says that there’s comedy and lots of joy about life—even though the bad guys ultimately triumph—in this movie about a French chef’s visit to the Republic of Georgia in the 1920s. “The food is exotic and marvelous, and the chef identifies all the ingredients, including bear liver, in a complicated dish.”
3) Babette’s Feast (1987)
Describing it as “poignant” and “a stunning example of fine food wasted on the ignorant,” Freedman loves this film about a French woman living in an austere Danish community in 1870s. A master chef, she spends 14 years cooking for those who have no interest in eating for pleasure, before blowing her lottery winnings on a single magnificent meal.
4) Tampopo (1985)
This film about a collective effort to rescue a bedraggled noodle shop in Tokyo, says Freedman, “is really a series of comical vignettes about food, sensuality, and excess.” Memorable scenes include Japanese versus European food customs—or how much noise to make when eating noodles. “You’ll never look at sole meunière—the only French dish Japanese businessmen seem to know—in the same way again.”
5) Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
The central character in this film is a master chef who has lost his sense of taste. “We see his marvelous creations and fanatical attention to quality,” Freedman says, “but, like the legendary figure of Beethoven in his last years, his ailments have defeated his enjoyment of his art but not his genius itself.”