Chew on This
Meet Ron Deutsch, the Chef du Cinema
Food and film – the two most delectable and (when directed and consumed properly) the two most sumptuous and soulfully enriching art forms a person can indulge in – have always been deeply intertwined. Long before the Alamo Drafthouse and chef John Bullington forever challenged and changed Austin's expectations of what "dinner and a movie" could truly mean, there were the iffy snack bars and wonderfully greasy drive-in kitchens of yore. Junk food for junk culture, as it was viewed at the time. I remember gorging myself on drive-in fare so unappetizing that it had to be served, inevitably, impaled on a wooden dowel – as though it were some sort of revenant in a Hammer horror picture, or a forlorn bit of The Blob, necessitating rapid consumption lest it consume the unwary audience member. As a little kid, I loved it anyway. These days, not so much.
Thankfully, local food and film artisan Ron Deutsch is aiming to both elevate the filmic art form and elucidate for the audience the joy of cooking with both class and gas in his role as Austin's "Chef du Cinema." Deutsch is a longtime fixture in Austin's film and food communities, and a well-travelled scholar of both. (West of Zanzibar? He's not only seen the film, he's been there.) Since 2010, he's been pairing classic movies with four courses of obscurely delicious comestibles prepared, explained, and cooked in a classroom setting that doubles as a theatre when the stove is extinguished and the lights go down. His mission? You can do this too, at home, and you don't have to be Julia Child (or Roger Corman) to pull it off.
"I had a traumatic experience when I was six years old," recalls Deutsch. "I watched The Wizard of Oz and it scared the pants off of me. I can remember what I had to eat: It was leftover, reheated roast beef, and it was really horrible. So I have this direct association between a scary movie and terrible food in one awful experience. It took me maybe 15 years to watch The Wizard of Oz again."
In a successful bid to forevermore avoid such traumatic experiences, Deutsch took up cooking a decade ago, at the same Central Market cooking school where he now holds his bimonthly classes. Prior to his current incarnation as the Chef du Cinema, he gigged around both coasts as a screenwriter, a soundman for the likes of "bands ranging from the Grateful Dead to the Dead Kennedys," a freelance writer for Wired and CMJ, a documentary film director, and in short explored pretty much every other creative avenue one can think of. But film and food remained the arts closest to his heart (and stomach), and thus was born Chef du Cinema.
And it's not just the bimonthly classes that have made Deutsch a gastronome's cinematic cause célèbre of late. His relentlessly researched and impossibly engrossing blog (www.chefducinema.com) combines a wealth of anecdotes, recipes from various stars, and trivia that form the nonedible backbone of his success. Witty and informative, the blog recounts the backstories behind the Chef du Cinema menus and adds original concoctions aimed at readers who might want to kick back at home and rent, for instance, Stephen Frears' 1984 film The Hit and nosh on star Terence Stamp's recipe for Scotch pancakes with bramble jelly. There's something exquisitely intimate about connecting to a film, filmmaker, or actor via not only the eyes and ears but through all five senses simultaneously. It's sensual in a way that simply viewing a movie isn't.
It's safe to say that Chef du Cinema is a smash hit, so to speak. The venerable Criterion Collection has taken Deutsch on board to pen essay-recipes for its website that range from the "Crumb Family Recipe à la Veronica" (a spaghetti dish relating to Terry Zwigoff's delightfully disturbing documentary on cartoonist R. Crumb) to "Donald Pleasence's Fillet of Sole Bonne Femme" (a culinary Cul-de-sac if ever there was one).
"If there's something in a movie, a specific food, a meal, or whatever, I'll gravitate towards that," Deutsch says. "I've got a recipe for the Marx Brothers' mother's brisket, and I was thinking it would be a very Marx Brothers thing to do that with Duck Soup, because it's neither duck nor soup. But really, I just want to do movies that I like. Chef du Cinema is about more than just food and films; it's about background and context, and that's really my favorite part. There's the three-act structure and the four-course meal, and sometimes you can connect them in really interesting and delicious ways."