Cover Somebody Feed Phil (Photo: Netflix)

Looking for something on screen to whet your appetite? We asked chefs and F&B professionals across Asia about their favourite food movies, documentaries and series

From Chef to Burnt to The Hundred-Foot Journey, there are a host of classic food movies, not to mention acclaimed documentaries—think Jiro Dreams of Sushi, food-related docu-series and TV shows out there. And they just keep coming. Recent release Boiling Point is a British drama starring Stephen Graham shot in a single take depicting a busy kitchen where everything that can go wrong in a night's service does, while Apple TV announced it will be producing Omnivore with filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga, director of Bond movie, No Time to Die, and renowned Noma chef René Redzepi. A documentary about José Andrés's World Central Kitchen titled We Feed People is also due out later this year. 

Food plays such a key role in life that it's no wonder it makes it onto our screens, either as the dominant subject of a film or show, or as a vehicle for delivering commentary, developing emotion and so much more. 

We asked chefs and F&B professionals from across Asia to spotlight their favourites or the ones that had made a lasting impression, which range from lesser known foreign language films, to universal favourites to the more surprising, including a sci-fi horror film and a movie that while not about food directly features a scene that has remained with one chef for some time and may make you return for a second viewing...

The Chinese Feast 金玉满堂

One of my all-time favourite food films is The Chinese Feast 金玉满堂, which is about a gangster who wants to move to Canada to begin a new life as a chef. I first watched it when I was 14, and it inspired me to work part-time as a kitchen helper and eventually become a professional chef. The movie has a strong and clear message: it’s okay to start from scratch, but continue to work hard and be better at what you do. This has become my lifelong goal.

While the film was released in 1995, it is still an accurate representation of today’s F&B industry in the sense that creativity is important in the kitchen and chefs must follow the market trends and adapt to these changes.

– Aaron Tan, Executive Chinese Chef, InterContintental Singapore, and Vice President, Society of Chinese Cuisine Chefs (Singapore), Singapore

Like Water for Chocolate

I have seen many, if not all, of the renowned food movies including some less renowned French ones. Burnt or The Hundred-Foot Journey are probably the most realistic. They depict different pictures of different styles of kitchen: the small chef-owned kitchen and the full-size, large-team kitchens that I have worked in. Both show the difficulties and hardships of working in high-end or fine dining cuisine, which is why I personally can relate so much to those movies. I especially like The Hundred-Foot Journey as it reminds me of my experience moving to Bali and learning to incorporate Indonesian flavours into modern French cuisine.

But, I would say that my favourite food film would be Like Water for Chocolate. It is really unique in that it pushes the boundaries in the relationship between food and emotions and I think that is a key factor for us chefs that people might not know about. One always wonders how chefs can work such long hours in such bad conditions. And I think the answer is in the emotions that food brings to us. Everyone can guess that we probably get satisfaction from a happy customer, but do they really know the emotions that we get while we are preparing food, tasting the evolution of the flavours and the creation of new flavours? It is all of these emotions that create excitement in our food and, in the end, that is how our customers discern us from others.

– Chris Salans, Chef, Mozaic Restaurant and Spice by Chris Salans, Bali, Indonesia

Tampopo

Tampopo, the 1985 film directed by Jûzô Itami, about two Japanese milk-truck drivers who help a restaurant owner learn how to cook a perfect bowl of noodles, is a funny, sexy celebration of food and the quirky sides of Japanese culture.

For me this is one of the greatest food films of all time and was the inspiration for Pot Au Pho, my pho noodle bar that showcases Vietnam’s most iconic national dish.

– Peter Cuong Franklin, Chef, Anan Saigon, Pot Au Pho, and Nhau Nhau, Vietnam

Entre Les Bras

This documentary is a great showcase of growing up in the industry as a family business, the loosening of the reins to the next in line and a great look into the amazing Bras family. Being a documentary, it’s real life and extremely accurate to their account, yet anyone who has grown up in the restaurant industry can understand it and relate to it.

– Josh Boutwood, Chef, The Test Kitchen, Helm, and Savage, The Philippines

Inglorious Basterds (strudel scene)

The infamous Strudel scene. Colonel Hans Landa of the SS, played by Christoph Waltz, and Shoshanna, played by Melanie Laurent exchange an intense nail biting, captivating, sitting at the edge of your seat magnitude of interaction over a simple plate of apple strudel in my all-time favourite movie, Inglorious Basterds, directed by Quentin Tarantino. First you need to watch from the beginning to understand why this scene invokes so many emotions on so many levels, and I won’t spoil it for you, but I do adore the ASMR I get from the scooping of the whipped cream, the crackle of the pastry, and even the sounds of the strudel impending to a pulp as he consumes it. That breath you were holding throughout the terrifying scene is released together with Shoshanna, when Hans Landa leaves the room—a sigh of relief that he didn’t find out, or did he?

Corica Pastries, established in 1957 in Western Australia, is a pastry company that is the home of Perth’s world-famous apple strudel. As a kid I would look forward to that rectangular cardboard box with its green emblem on the kitchen countertop. It would bring me so much joy and associated with joyful memories. It would mean Mum went into town, we had a special occasion to celebrate or we were about to host or go to a gathering at a family friends’ home. I was not to touch the strudel until everyone had arrived—a near impossible feat I might add. I’ve tried to replicate it so many times, but nothing compares. I still look forward to Corica's apple strudel to this day and can’t wait to tear into one as soon as I fly home—it has been over two years.

I am in awe of the fact that an apple strudel can bring me numerous fond memories from childhood yet summon immensely disturbing emotions from adulthood. Only pure genius could accomplish this—one is the pastry chef at Corica’s, and the other is a renowned director.

– Gavin Chin, Chef, Brut, Hong Kong

Ratatouille

Ratatouille is among my all-time favourites for its artful portrayal of the intensity of fine dining kitchens, the challenges faced by young female chefs and its core tenet “anyone can cook”. In the end, what wins the critic over is a combination of technique and personal, emotional storytelling. The storytelling is key. It’s also fairly accurate that no matter the quality of the food, a kitchen manned entirely my rodents will be shut down.

– Alison Tan, Co-founder of Savour Cinema, Hong Kong

Seaspiracy and Rotten

I recommend watching documentaries Seaspiracy and Rotten. The former is about the ocean crisis, while the latter is about the farmers and food producers squeezed by large-scale industry. These two documentaries seem to have little to do with cooking, but it is a basic responsibility of chefs to consider the origins of their ingredients, not to waste them, to reduce damage to the earth’s environment and to recognise the importance of sustainable development to the planet because ingredients are taken from our nature, our mountains and our seas. These two films highlight many of the issues we should be concerned about, such as marine debris, overfishing, large-scale environmental damage, etc. I think this is the first thing that chefs should recognise—that delicious food is one thing but the meaning behind it is important.

– Kei Koo, Chef, T+T, Taiwan

The Mind Of A Chef

My favourite F&B documentary that I still watch to this day is The Mind of a Chef, particularly the three seasons chef David Chang hosted. I love his straightforward, no fuss, unapologetic style of cooking. He showed how his mind works when dealing with certain ingredients and food memories. The F&B industry puts a lot of pressure on chefs and that's why I admire his unapologetic way of cooking and way of managing his restaurant empire.

– Patrick Go, Chef, Gochugang, Dandan Eatery, and Your Local, The Philippines

Street Food

I think the Street Food series on Netflix is an amazing glimpse into a widely appreciated, but less publicised side of authentic cooking. Both the first season, in Asia, and the second season, in Latin America, showcase an amazing array of local talent. Vivid, carefully curated, lovingly shot and food so juicy you can literally taste it through the screen, Street Food shows that there is more to food than elaborate tasting menus and stuffy dining rooms. As a look at the culture behind the flavour, this is my absolute favourite.

Will Goldfarb, Chef, Room 4 Desert, Bali, Indonesia

Iron Chef

The Japanese TV show Iron Chef was my favourite childhood TV show. It saw contestants challenge three top chefs, or ‘Iron Chefs’ to a cook-off. The show explained the inspiration behind the dishes, the biographies of the chefs and the story around creating the dishes. Lots of international chefs came to challenge the Iron Chefs and a lot of skills were required to prepare the dishes. It was very motivating.

Otto Tay, World Pastry Champion, Malaysia

The Platform

The Platform is a dystopian horror film that I interpreted as a metaphor for the inequality within F&B and food systems at large—with a hopeful ending. In the film, a daily banquet atop a platform slowly descends through endless floors of a vertical prison, allowing those in higher floors to eat their fill of lobster and tiered cakes while those on lower floors starve. Prisoners are randomly reassigned to different floors. The chefs prepare each prisoner’s favourite foods with exquisite care, detached from the experiences below, until a pivotal moment at the film’s ending when the injustice is laid bare. This is an extreme film and shows us what an increasingly stratified, alienated society can look like. Is the role of F&B only to give certain people what they desire? How can we all play a part in ensuring everyone, not just those privileged by chance, has access to food? Should we consume as much as we can because we fear our good fortune may turn to ashes tomorrow, or can we collectively create a better future? Both the F&B world and its communities benefit from engaging in conscious informed feedback loops.

– Alison Tan, Co-founder of Savour Cinema, Hong Kong

Somebody Feed Phil

My favourite food-based documentary is Netflix's Somebody Feed Phil featuring Philip Rosenthal. I love that Phil is so exuberant and comical; when exploring the different types of cuisines, he does it with so much enthusiasm and charisma. He makes food from different parts of the world so interesting, which is an amazing inspiration for me. He explores a range of dining styles from fine dining to street food, focusing on every dish's quality, taste and uniqueness. In my opinion, this is a great documentary about food as I get to imagine real-life experiences that inspire me to explore when travelling. After all, there is no better purpose for a show than to inspire its viewers, and as a chef, I truly appreciate what it has helped me become today.

Mandy Goh, Chef, Kayuputi, Malaysia

Chef's Table

I have been fond of watching movies since I was a child when I would often spend a whole day at the cinema on weekends and holidays. I like to enter the virtual time and space of movies, and study the composition and stacking of images. I started filmmaking myself in college, and went to France to study it. Before I started working as a chef, my life was inseparable from movies. Even now, watching movies is a very important stress relief for me and a way to escape from reality.

I like Netflix's Chef's Table the most when it comes to F&B-related films and shows, especially the episode in the second season with Grant Achatz. Movies related to the catering industry are either very realistic, or are too dreamy. This episode with chef Grant Achatz is very diverse, not only showing the discipline and enthusiasm of high-end catering, as well as the dazzling creations, but also the bitterness behind the glamour. Whenever I encounter difficulties at work and no one understands, I re-watch this episode. Chef's Table is a show that can help you regain your enthusiasm, while also providing inspiration. It can also remind you why you wanted to enter the industry in the first place and can encourage you to set new goals.

– Vanessa Huang, Ephernité, Taiwan

 

Burnt

This film dramatises a fictitious two-Michelin-starred restaurant in London, England. The director uses Adam Jones as an example of a tyrannical head chef who realises that he, by wanting more control, is losing control of himself. He then undergoes a transformational process to become a different leader (transactional) who does not need anger to lead.

The movie clearly shows that authoritarian leadership is not always the best approach. It may stifle the opportunities for harnessing talents and skills from the people. It mums the voices of the people with great ideas and constructive criticisms. But, it may lead to stagnation, low retention, and creativity in the process.

When talking about sustainable labour (low retention), the movie shows a good picture of how your leadership style is an essential factor in team behaviour and retention. As we work in a high-performance industry with long hours and pressure, good work conditions are crucial for our mental health and business achievements. Unfortunately, in my younger days, I caught myself becoming an autocratic boss instead of a leader once in a while. It matters how we as leaders empower and lead our team to reach and support the goals.

Hans Rasmussen, Executive Chef, IFTM Educational Restaurant, Macau

Le Chef

Le Chef is a heart-warming and humorous movie that addresses themes like persistence, hard work and trust, which are of paramount importance and relevance in the modern culinary world.

Jacky Bonnot, a wildly enthusiastic young chef displays a strong passion and determination in carving out a successful culinary career for himself. His journey was not short of sacrifices—from prepping meals in a nursing home kitchen and earning extra wages as a window cleaner, to doing an unpaid internship with the world-renowned Alexandre Lagarde. Jacky’s adventurous and innovative cooking techniques and recipes eventually inspired Alexandre to move on from his old-school, conventional cooking methods, which helped to keep his restaurant afloat. Likewise, in the F&B world, the journey to becoming a successful chef is not smooth-sailing. It requires passion, humility, and a willingness to learn, with sacrifices to be made along the way.”

Simone Loisi, Chef de Cuisine, Waterfall Ristorante Italiano, Shangri-La Singapore, Singapore

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