There are movies where food is the an integral part of the theme and there are movies that aren’t remotely about food but contain scenes where the food gets stuck in our memory. The Godfather, for instance, that epic story about a family of Italian-American mobsters. I like repeating my little anecdote about how I learned to cook meatballs in tomato sauce by listening to Clemenza, one of Don Vito’s caporegimes, explain to Michael Corleone how to make meatballs in tomato sauce.
You start with a little bit of oil and you fry some garlic. Then, you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste… You fry to make sure it doesn’t stick. You get it to a boil then you shove in all your sausage and meatballs. Add a little bit of wine… and a little bit of sugar… and that’s my trick.
Clemenza is Sicilian, it’s reasonable to surmise that when he says “oil” he means olive oil. The meatballs and sausages appear to have been browned in oil before they went into the pot of sauce. The wine is red based on its appearance but even if the visuals weren’t that clear, red wine is traditionally used when cooking red meat.
The Godfather hardly qualifies as a foodie movie nor a cooking show but Google “Clemenza meatballs” and the plethora of recipes inspired by that scene is staggering. There is even one site where Clemenza’s recipe was pitted against the recipe of Vinnie from another mobster film, Goodfellas.
And if Clemenza’s recipe weren’t memorable enough, I learned to make gnocchi by watching Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), then heir apparent to the Corleone empire, teach Michael’s daughter, Mary (Sofia Coppola), how to hand roll each piece.
Among Asian films, there is nothing more instructional than the opening scene of Eat Drink Man Woman. Learn how to cleanly scrape off the seeds of a chili, julienne a whole radish, and gut, fillet and fry a fish in a span of a few seconds from the opening scene. I especially love that trick of holding the floured fish fillets over a wok of boiling oil and giving them a hot oil bath before sliding them in. There is no dialogue in the opening scene — just visuals but what an excellent source of Chinese cooking lessons!
There are movies that don’t give us any idea about how to cook or prepare the food and drinks featured in them but we remember them anyway. A case of powerful association, perhaps, as in the case of the Harry Potter candies, the most famous, perhaps, being the chocolate frog.
And then there’s butterbeer. Whether it is based on the Buttered Beer from Tudor times, no one knows. But Google “butterbeer” and, just like Clemenza’s meatballs, a long list of recipes appears, none of which cites Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling as the source. We can safely presume that all butterbeer recipes floating around are based on guesswork. The real thing can be had at the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida.
Then, there’s James Bond and his martini. In the 2006 remake of Casino Royale, Bond, ordering a dry martini, gave specific instructions on how his drink was to be prepared: “Three measures of Gordon’s; one of vodka; half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice, and add a thin slice of lemon peel.” The recipe is based on one given in Ian Fleming’s novel. Bond called his drink The Vesper, named after Vesper Lynd. The curious thing is that the manufacture of Kina Lillet had been discontinued in the 1980s and, by the time of the Casino Royale remake, it had been rebranded as Lillet Blanc.
As a final note, there cannot be any talk about Bond’s martini without reiterating that it is always shaken, not stirred. It’s been that way since Sean Connery made the first Bond movie, Dr. No, and stayed the same through all the other James Bond movies until, losing heavily on the poker table in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig famously snapped at a bartender with “Do I look like I give a damn?” I remember how that line got a lot of moviegoers laughing audibly.