Tag Archives: foodie

Review: ‘Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent’

dfn-JeremiahTower-300If there’s any doubt to the hubris that runs inherent to the lifestyle and vision of a master chef, then look no further than the title of Lydia Tenaglia’s documentary on foodie iconoclast Jeremiah Tower.

Handsome, sure-footed and completely married to his ideals of transforming the American food scene to his carnivorous will, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent is part history lesson and part dire warning that the master chef scene is also quite dog-dog-eat. However, through an array of celebrity talking heads (Anthony Bourdain, Martha Stewart and Wolfgang Puck) who gleam about the visionary artist, mixed with somewhat distant friends and family members espousing on Tower’s psychological “dark places,” Tenaglia’s film walks an uneasy balance that makes for an equally scattershot film.

Beginning strongly, the first half of the film is the best. Spending a great deal of time on Tower’s highly privileged but lonely childhood, the film amply shows how his food imagination was stimulated, constantly left to fend for himself on his family’s wealthy globetrotting vacations. The murmur and glare of lights inside an ocean liner dining room. The collection of menus he amassed at the age of ten. The willful gluttony of ordering anything or everything on the menu and carefully studying the taste of each. And especially the imprint of meeting and spending a day on the beach with a native man at the age of six. All these memories serve as the foundations to the man and food inventor Jeremiah would become, as well as providing more insight into a documentary figure than I’ve seen in quite some time.

The interesting information continues as we follow Tower into the late 60’s and early 70’s, basically falling into a gig as a chef at Berkeley’s now famed Chez Panisse. Like another recent food doc, Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table (2017), in which Tower himself also appeared in as one of the celebrity talking heads, Tenaglia’s film superbly recounts the opening of a new frontier in American cuisine where restaurants became famous for shucking their reliance on international (i.e. French) cooking and instead focused on local flavor and found food items. Essentially a grass-roots reawakening to the splendors of the coastlines, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent becomes a clear-eyed examination of this movement and its carefree hippie formation.

Becoming less focused as it goes along, both through editorial choices of overlapping Tower in his nomadic existence on a sunny Mexican coast and the eventual financial and ethical dilemmas that sink his much lauded San Franciscan”Stars” restaurant, Jeremiah Tower also becomes less of an interesting primary figure. His coaxing out of semi-retirement to helm a sinking New York establishment in 2014 and the jaundiced relationships that develop feel crafted as a simple three-act arch. He’s surely earned his status as a ‘restaurateur’ and words can still hurt even the most prominent figures in a certain field, yet the documentary tries too hard to make a martyr out of him.

Executive produced by Anthony Bourdain, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent is self serving at times and feels as if it’s coming from a place of insider privilege. It also, for at least two-thirds of its run time, exposes a small faction of untold, sauteed American pop culture history. Food connoisseurs and general history buffs should rejoice in this new-found oral history being given screen time. It not only makes the brain tick but the mouth water.

The film opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, April 28 at the Land mark Magnolia Theater.

Review: ‘Chef,’ A Tasty Fantasy

Jon Favreau's 'Chef' (Open Road Films)
Jon Favreau’s ‘Chef’ (Open Road Films)
A fantasy about food, family, and social media, Chef is a pleasant confection served up in an appetizing manner. The service is a bit slow, but the food is tasty when it arrives.

Writer, director, and star Jon Favreau, who lately has found gainful employment making impersonal, big-budget extravaganzas, returns to his indie roots to tell the story of Carl Casper, a chef who has lost his way. Once he turned heads with his culinary abilities, but he has fallen into a rut serving the same, albeit popular, menu at a high-priced Los Angeles restaurant owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman), who doesn’t want Carl to change a thing. Meanwhile, Carl has become distant with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony), who is steadily losing hope that he still plays an important role in his father’s life.

Things come to a head when “the most important restaurant critic in Los Angeles” (Oliver Platt) gives the restaurant a bad review, singling out Carl for some bitingly personal comments, and prompting him to start a flame war via social media. Carl ends up out of a job and, eventually, in Miami watching Percy while his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) conducts some business. She’s been urging him to get a food truck and cook the kind of food he wants to cook, and finally he capitulates after Inez’s ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) gives him one.

Naturally enough, Carl is so talented that his food truck becomes an instant sensation. Naturally enough, Percy is such a social media whiz that the food truck becomes an instant sensation wherever it stops on a road trip from Miami to Los Angeles. Naturally enough, plenty of delicious-looking food is served, everyone loves it, and family bonds are strengthened.

If this all sounds pro-forma, a string of episodes allowing Favreau to expound upon his philosophy of life, love of food, and discomfort with criticism, well, it is. Yet Favreau is a convivial host, and he’s called upon his friends — those already noted, as well as John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale, and more — to fill out the cast with sincere and palpable camaraderie. Life lessons are gently imparted with a light touch; the episodes are peppered with humor and seasoned with a spirit of generosity

Chef may be a familiar dish, but it’s cooked with honesty, integrity, and good ingredients. That makes it a welcome addition to any film lover’s menu.

The film opens today at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas, AMC NorthPark 15, and Cinemark West Plano and XD.