Movie studios scramble to get big-name stars headline their films, but in many of my favorite movies food is the star. Few things are better than pairing a foodie film with a great meal so we can enjoy ourselves just as much as the folks onscreen are enjoying their own aliments. In this series, we'll highlight a movie in which food plays a leading role and suggest one or more local spots to provide an accompanying feast for you. Pull up a table and dim the lights, the show's about to begin.
Synopsis This Disney and Pixar film was a hit among both children and adults when it was released in 2007. The film is set in France and stars Remy, a rat, who begins the story by narrating his life and explaining how he has highly developed senses of taste and smell, which sometimes alienate him from his garbage-eating rat peers. He dreams of being a chef, and his idol is the recently deceased master chef Auguste Gusteau. When Remy becomes separated from his fellow rats in the sewers, he finds himself at Gusteau's restaurant in Paris and decides to help out a floundering new garbage boy, Linguini, who has inadvertently ruined a pot of soup. Remy uses his cooking skills to fix Linguini's errors, creating a new type of soup.
Linguini catches Remy, and while Linguini is being yelled at by the head chef, Skinner, for trying to cook, the soup is accidentally served to customers who, it turns out, love it. Skinner hires Linguini as a chef on the condition that he re-create the soup and kill the rat that he trapped in the kitchen. Linguini cannot bring himself to kill the rat, and he discovers that not only can he communicate with Remy, but it was Remy who saved the soup. Remy and Linguini become a cooking team, with the rat controlling the human's movements by pulling on his hair, like a puppet master controlling a marionette.
Later, Skinner meets with an agent to discuss using Gusteau's name to create a line of frozen fast food and gaining ownership of the restaurant. If no heir of Gusteau's is found within two years of his death (a date that will arrive in about a month), Skinner will inherit the restaurant. The mean chef discovers that Linguini is likely Gusteau's son, though, and he vows to get him fired from the restaurant before the two-year deadline.
Meanwhile, Linguini is doing wonderful things in the kitchen (with the help of Remy, of course) and falling for a female chef, Colette. Food critic Anton Ego (voiced by the recently deceased Peter O'Toole) hears of the restaurant's renewed popularity and decides to make a visit. Skinner's lawyer reveals that Linguini is definitely Gusteau's son, but they decide to keep it a secret from the young chef. Remy discovers the secret, however, and tells Linguini, who fires Skinner and takes over.
Warning: Go directly to page 2 to avoid spoilers!
Linguini is becoming very absorbed with Colette and his role as head chef, so he tells Remy he doesn't need him anymore. Angry, Remy gathers his clan, and they raid the kitchen. Linguini throws them out and completely disassociates with Remy.
By this time, Skinner has figured out that it is Remy, not Linguini, who is the master chef, and he traps him and tries to recruit the rat to help him with his frozen food line. Remy's father and brother free him in time for Remy to return to the restaurant to help Linguini prepare a meal for the critic. Linguini confesses his secret to his fellow chefs, who walk out, disgusted. Having seen Linguini stand up for Remy, Remy's father recruits all the rats to come help in the kitchen.
A health inspector arrives and sees all the rats in the kitchen, but the rodents overpower him, tie him up and lock him in the freezer. Colette, having had a change of heart, also comes to the kitchen to help with the meal. Remy decides to prepare a simple ratatouille for the critic, but Colette thinks it's peasant food. The dish is served anyway, and the critic is overcome with memories of his mother making ratatouille for him as a child. Skinner, angered that the critic is so impressed, storms into the kitchen, where he sees all the rats at work. He, too, is tied up and thrown in the freezer.
The critic insists on thanking the chef for the wonderful meal, and Linguini decides to tell him about Remy and the rat crew in the kitchen. In spite of this, the critic writes a rave review of Gusteau's restaurant, proclaiming the chef to be "the finest in Paris," though never mentioning he's a rat.
Unfortunately, Gusteau's is forced to shut down after the health inspector and Skinner are let go. The critic loses his job after it's discovered he gave a rave review to a restaurant infested with rats. Instead of wallowing, he goes on to fund a new bistro called La Ratatouille, in which Remy, Linguini and Colette serve wonderful meals to both humans and rats, and Remy's clan lives happily ever after in the roof of the new bistro.
Why this is a foodie film
Aside from the fact that the bulk of the movie's action takes place in the kitchen, Ratatouille can teach children (and adults) a lot about food. All of the culinary discussions, preparations and techniques are, as far as I can tell, accurate. When Colette explains rules of the kitchen to Linguini in the scene below, all the things she says are things most chefs have heard in a real kitchen.
Clearly, the film's writers did their research to determine which recipes the characters should cook, which ingredients they should use and how the kitchen should be stocked. The director, Brad Bird, visited a number of French restaurants and even interned at Thomas Keller's French Laundry, where Keller developed the confit byaldi, which would become the ratatouille in the film. The animators attended cooking classes to familiarize themselves with the way food looks during the cooking process. The filmmakers wanted everything from the recipes to the slight burns visible on the chef's arms to be as authentic as possible.
And really, a movie that features a dish created by Thomas Keller specifically for animation? That's a foodie film if ever there was one.
Best food scene
Though the scene in which Colette explains the ins and outs of the kitchen to Linguini is great, I'm partial to the moment when Remy decides to make ratatouille for the critic, and the critic tastes it for the first time. You can almost figure out how to make Keller's version of the dish from what's shown in the film, and the scene in which the critic takes a bite and is brought back to his childhood is both heartwarming and victorious.
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What you should eat Perhaps Colette was right when she said that ratatouille is a peasant food. The combination of stewed vegetables including tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and bell peppers isn't fancy by any means, but it's a great soothing dish on a chilly winter day. I have yet to see it on the menu of any French restaurant in Houston, though, most of which err on the side of gourmet rather than comfort or peasant food.
There are two ratatouille dishes on the menu at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino, however, and both of them are delicious, hearty versions of the classic dish. You can order a small dish of ratatouille marti, which includes roasted ratatouille (as opposed to stewed, though roasted is how it's done in the movie), a fried egg and shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese. Giacomo's also makes an appetizer called torta di cipolle e caprino, essentially an onion tart with goat cheese and ratatouille.
Should you want to make your own ratatouille, it's incredibly easy. Look up a recipe online or follow the steps in this video. There's really no need to have exact measurements. You pretty much can't go wrong with garlic, onions and roasted vegetables.