“If you are a chef, no matter how good a chef you are, it’s not good cooking for yourself; the joy is in cooking for others.”
This quote from Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am is actually more about making music and how it relates back to cooking. However, he makes an astute point about the culinary arts: It’s something best shared, and therefore one of the most intimate gifts one can offer.
In Delicious, the new film from French writer/director Éric Besnard (perhaps most notable in the States as the writer of Le Convoyeur, remade last year as Wrath of Man), that passion takes center stage via the burgeoning career of chef Pierre Manceron (Gadebois). As the personal chef to the Duke of Chamfort (Lavernhe) during the 18th century, Manceron is talented but is on thin ice with his superiors that finally cracks as he once again disobeys orders to cook from off menu. As he’s quite literally laughed out of his position back to his home in the country, he meets the wandering Louise (Carré) who insists on being taken in as an apprentice. As they both reveal their grievances with the Duke, the two quietly plot to redeem themselves as they begin to develop something ultimately revolutionary: the first ever French restaurant.
To perhaps no surprise given the subject matter, this is a worthy addition to a subgenre of films always in need of quality additions: good food movies. There’s a relaxing, warm tenderness to watching Manceron and Louise grow closer as they form a bond through their cooking, an act that drives the political and emotional undercurrents of the plot. Manceron isn’t quick to embrace the now-familiar tenets of being a restaurateur, still stuck in an outmoded model of cooking for superiors instead of for himself and others. At the other end of the dichotomy, the Duke sees thoughtfully prepared meals as something only the elite can appreciate, and of which the peasantry is unworthy. This is a movie simultaneously about finding your calling, moving out of the past, and, more specifically, the democratization of proper, well-prepared food as it transcends past aristocracy to the working class.
The reflective themes of the screenplay help lift a film that is never quite as engrossing as it should be. Though its calming quality is more of a feature than a bug, there’s a lack of real emotional stakes or particularly compelling progression. That said, it’s full of wonderful production and costume design, as well as plenty of thoughtfully composed frames from cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou. It looks like an authentic period drama and has a pleasant spirit, even if it has difficulty keeping things totally interesting. It may not pack the esteemed grandeur of a five-course meal at a Michelin star restaurant, but it does deliver the gentle nourishment of a thoughtfully cooked dinner to share with a loved one.
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