10 Best Food Documentaries of the 21st Century (So Far)
Food documentaries serve a lot of different purposes. Sometimes they're almost culinary porn, with sumptuous photography and lovingly detailed preparation. Other times, the films can be informative, recounting the horrors of the American diet or the shady dealings behind agribusiness.
These films can also be celebratory, focusing on dining establishments and their community. Another great genre of documentary is character driven, though of course this only works if the person can hold the audience for a whole hour and a half.
After spending hours in front of our television watching films about everything from bananas to tongue cancer to food Nazis, we've compiled this list of the best food-based titles made since the beginning of this century.
Whether you are looking to be educated or moved or even laugh until you cry, there is something for everyone. And thankfully, chefs, kitchens and restaurants make for great drama.
10. Le Cirque
What makes a restaurant an institution? In the case of Le Cirque, the attention of the glitterati is key. From Henry Kissinger to the Cardinal of New York to Woody Allen, this New York City landmark has attracted a who’s who of the city since 1974. The most interesting part of this documentary is Le Cirque’s effort to hold on to the accolades as the world around the place begins to change. Founded by Sirio Maccioni with a clear mission to serve, and perhaps pander to, a certain class of people, Le Cirque struggled for relevance in the ‘90s, losing its footing with a make-or-break review in The New York Times. The restaurant’s attempt at reinvention while preserving its history makes for a great visual story.
9. Pressure Cooker
Inspirational without veering into maudlin territory, Pressure Cooker follows Wilma Stephenson, a dedicated culinary arts teacher at Frankford High School in Philadelphia as she attempts to inspire her impoverished students to push past their own limited expectations. Stephenson tries every tactic in the book, from threatening and yelling to cajoling and rewarding, in an effort to help the kids win scholarships to culinary schools around the country. The movie focuses on three winsome students as they endlessly tourné potatoes hoping to impress the judges at the final competition. Directors Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker use the fancy cuisine being prepared, often by kids with little knowledge of French cooking, as a metaphor for the possibilities that lie ahead for those willing to work hard and open their mind to a new experience.
8. Cheese Nun
Not your average organic foodie, Mother Noella Marcellino makes cheese from scratch at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut. As her fellow mother Telchide Hinckley puts it, in their practice of cheese-making, the sisters are always thinking two things: “How can we be as monastic as possible?" and "Wow can we be as professional as possible?” Mother Noella got interested in creating cheeses the old-fashioned way when she became a nun in the ‘70s. Her journey is chronicled in Cheese Nun and the dedication is fascinating. Mother Noella got a PhD in microbiology and went on to study cheesemaking in France for three years. As Mother Noella puts it, “There are thousands of ways to turn milk into cheese and that’s what makes it interesting.”
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