Tasting Menu - plating

Roger Gaul’s Tasting Menu (Menu Desgutació in Catalán) is a delightful film that takes place on one special night at a restaurant in Spain’s Costa Brava.  The movie is more about a group of characters, their relationships, and the drama that ensues that one night than it is about Spanish molecular gastronomy, but with such vibrant characters and so many fun plot twists, you’re in for delicious ride.

The restaurant is Chakula – one of the best restaurants in the (movie’s) world and clearly an amalgam of the impressive Michelin-star lineup that covers Spain’s Costa Brava.  The main players are the chef Mar Vidal (Vincenta N’Dongo) and her partner in business and love, Max (Andrew Tarbet); Rachel (Claudia Bassols) and the two men, Marc (Jan Cornet) and Daniel (Timothy Gibbs), she’s trapped in a love triangle with; the meddling but spunky Countess (Fionnula Flanagan); the solo and mysterious Walter (Stephen Rea); and two Japanese would-be-investors (Togo Igawa and Akihiko Serikawa), and their loud and obnoxious guide (Andrea Ros).

How refreshing to come across a movie whose tight editing perfectly allows its audience to be entertained and captivated by a great story and a wonderful culture.  It’s not too long (only 85 minutes), and is strewn with quirky characters and several languages (Catalán, English, and Japanese).

Some of the occurrences seem a little far-fetched, but it’s easy to suspend disbelief because these contrivances are done in such a lighthearted manner and with so much conviction that it’s more fun to get lost in the movie’s good humor.

The film starts with the arrivals of the guests to Chakula in the early evening, right before the sun begins to set.  The lighting and camera work are so calming and inviting; you can almost inhale the salty sea breeze at this stunning location; it’s hard to wish to be anywhere but there, though a seat in the theater comes in a close second.

Chef Mar + Max

The mise-en-scene of Chakula is simple, modern, and elegant, and while you drink in the ambiance on the screen, you might be wishing you were drinking the diners’ avant-garde welcome cocktail (off an aloe leaf).

As the courses start to come out of the kitchen, the conversations, past relationships, and history of the characters start to unfold. Each new course brings on a new drama, comedic relief, or touching story from the diners.

What’s so beautiful about the dinner is that it’s clear the chef has created a story behind the final night’s menu. The artistry and craft of not only Chef Mar but by extension all of the renowned European chefs are spectacular and are given much contemplation; each dish or course is presented as its own act.

One of my favorite moments is when the two Japanese men stop to really marvel and analyze the dish in front of them. The flavors and consistencies evoke such strong emotions that the dish causes them to reminisce. It’s one of the only moments that we see any of the characters truly react to the food being placed in front of them.  The scene is quite touching.

On the other hand, while the lovers (Marc—a doctor—and Rachel—a now-famous author—are exes, and Daniel is Rachel’s pedantic and chauvinistic new American man) are wildly lucky enough to be present at Chakula’s final night, they are too wrapped up in their own dramas to appreciate the weight of how remarkably special their dinners are.  It seems like each of the three is stuck in limbo and this night’s culmination (everything is building towards the surprise dessert) will determine the direction of their future.

Rachel + Marc

This plotline takes over most of the interest in the film, but slowly all of the characters’ stories start to merge into one as they each get tangled up with one-another.   After sharing such a memorable experience in such a beautiful location, how could everyone not be somehow magically connected?  (Clearly I’m still upset that I missed out on dining at El Bulli.)

The movie goes by quickly, almost too quickly and it’s a true joy to watch something that doesn’t take itself too seriously while still being well executed. The acting is superb and really matches the tone of the movie – fun, energetic, endearing, and passionate.

The art direction and filming create a perfect ambiance for the audience to lean back and enjoy while the music, direction, and the story’s suspense make you lean forward into the world of Tasting Menu.