Mary Panza

I have said it before, I am fat.  I always have been.  I am in the process of trying to lose some weight because I am tired of the doctor telling me to “get ahead of the weight.”  It makes me crave pancakes.  Anyone close to me knows I have sworn off trying to lose weight and that I really hate working out.  Hate is a strong word.  Trust me.  I know what I mean.

3b and I recently had a conversation about me wanting to cook for him.  He said that I didn’t have to feel obligated.  I have been trying to tell him that cooking for him and my girl isn’t an obligation.  It isn’t a chore.  Even though he and my girl often butt heads during dinner, cooking is something I need to do.  I am clumsy at showing my emotion.  I fall down and trip over my own feet and words most of the time.  Most people think I am mean and if I don’t know you, well, I am mean.  I am a believer in guilty until you prove yourself innocent in my personal relationships.  I don’t know how to tell him or anyone for that matter, when I cook it means something…to me.  It is a need that came to me when my mother died.  It goes beyond a feeling (which I would reject anyway) to almost a need to express love without drama and without words.  Normally, when I am feeling this sad I would escape into a pound of spaghetti with butter (salted) and pepper.  My second line of escape is movies.  So I let you into my five favorite food movies and why I love them so.

5.  Eat, Drink, Man, Woman – It is a movie about a master chef.  The cooking scenes are not for the faint of heart.  You have to be brave to watch him make his art.  He has three daughters that have three very different stories.  They are trying to find love and their way in life.  The kitchen scenes, to me, resemble faithful solders blindly and loyally following their general.  They watch him use all his senses to analyze the food.  His hands (which, along with eyes, are how I fall in love) move so fast and so exact with his cleaver that they are one thing. I love watching men that make art with their hands.  Be it a cleaver or a guitar; art is art. There are several ironies in this movie that I won’t give away.  I will say that the master chef is wonderful in his crankiness.

4.  The Big Night – Two brothers:  Primo and Secondo.  That’s right.   They have a small restaurant in a small town.  They serve Italian food as it is in Italy.  They are bleeding money and patience.  They have a competitor down the street serving “Italian” food for the masses. The big, successful restaurant is all about show.  I love this movie because I love the scratch between the brothers.  Primo is an artist.  Secondo is a business man ready to sell out.  He can’t stand the thought of failure.  Primo won’t compromise his integrity or the integrity of the food.  To me, that is a true artist.  A person that appreciates everything that goes into the final result and that he/she is just the facilator.  An arrogant poser says, look what I did.  An artist says: look how this came together and all parts are equally amazing.  That conflict between art and commerce is an old and never ending battle.  The final food scene always makes me cry.  The four hands on a white ceramic bowl that presents one of the hardest dishes for any Italian to make (and varies from town to town) is so breathtaking.  It comes out so perfectly that the two brothers look to God and kiss the perfect piece of art.  My favorite line of the movie, “This is so fucking good, I should kill you!”

3.  Dinner Rush – I was a bartender/waitress at the (Real) Lark Tavern from 1990-2003.  I worked the day shifts.  I was the bartender and ran the back room.  I didn’t always do it with a smile, but, by God, I did it.  I would disconnect my conscious mind and just let my  instinct take over.  I never dropped a tray, I never had a drink sent back and I made a small fortune.  I remember that feeling of my heart racing as the bar and back room filled.  The rewriters of local bar history will try to take this away from me.  I know the truth.  I just didn’t need the accolades and wouldn’t get them anyway.  I was tough because I had to be.  This movie literally makes my heart race in that same way.  It is ten stories in one Tuesday dinner service.  The running, the busyness, the yelling, the customers and of course, the food is the heart rush part.  The dinner part of this movie is the conflict of food and celebrity.  “These people wouldn’t know food if it bit them in the ass.”  Danny Aiello says to his son, a rising star in the world of celebrity chefs.  He wants sausage and peppers.  The son refuses.  His second in command brings him the sausage and peppers.  The son threatens to fire him if that food is ever cooked in his kitchen again.  He looks down on the old way.  He wants fame.  He wants Danny Aiello to hand the whole place over to him.  This is one story line.  You get bits and pieces of the server’s lives, the customer’s lives, and Sandra Bernhard in a bad wig.  Another movie I love because of the conflict of young verses old, commerce verses art and celebrity being more important than being an artist.  John Corbett character sums it up like this, “When did eating dinner become a Broadway show?”

2.  Like Water For Chocolate – This is a love story told through food.  It begins and ends with a book.  This old cook book is really the story of Tita’s life.  She never had it easy.  She was sensitive from the womb.  Her father dies and, as the youngest girl, Tita will never marry.  According to the family tradition, the youngest girl cares for the mother until her death.  She is raised by the maid, Nacha.  Nacha becomes her mother and her teacher.  Tita discovers that she can transfer whatever she is feeling to anyone though her cooking.  She watches her funny looking sister marry her true love and her bitter tears are put into the wedding cake.  She sits across from him (Pedro) at the dinner table with a meal of quail in rose petal sauce and, in a very hot scene; she loses a sister to a very handsome solider.  It is one of those things that are best left a visual.  I love this movie because of her suffering and because I get to look at food.

1.  Babette’s Feast – This, to me, is the greatest food movie of all time.  Argue it all you need.  Two spinster sisters are asked to do a favor for an old friend.  He asks them to take in a mysterious woman to run their house.  They are good Christian old maids so they say yes.  They teach her the simple ways of their village.  This includes the horrible food.  Babette is no fool.  She soon wises up to the guy that tried to sell her the rotten bacon and to the petty ways of this community.  She adjusts to this life.  She then hits a lottery, goes to Paris and in the final 40 minutes of this film, shows the connection between food and art.  I defy anyone not to need to order in after this movie.  She makes this exquisite French dinner for these simpletons, not only to show them there is more to life than bad bread and broth, but to fulfill an artistic need.  She had to and it didn’t matter the consequence.  To me, that is what an artist does.  You say what you have to say and damn the torpedoes. It may not be the easiest way to live but that desire to create will come out no matter.

Now the last two movies have subtitles.  Cut the crap and see them anyway.   If you can read my nonsense you can read subtitles.  Suck it up and do it.

I am hoping that I can someday make 3b understand that I need to feed him.  Granted, not every meal is a winner.  Just like not every poem makes sense.  Still, that is no reason not to keep on trying.  Listen, learn, and make dinner.  Nine times outta ten, it will get you laid.