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Bite Me

Dinner and a Movie

My friend Johnny, former sommelier and service captain, offers up Fight Club. "Never forget what a waiter can do to your soup if he doesn't like you," he reminds me, and I remind him that's exactly why I never send anything back. Marczyk also picks Babette's Feast for the caille en sarcophage (quail in a coffin) and the Veuve-Clicquot 1865 that's served at the dinner. Barbara Macfarlane (Marczyk's wife, partner and a film-school grad from the University of Vermont) goes for the French cult film La Grande Bouffe, in which four friends, chefs all and tired of their lives and the meaninglessness of their existence (ah, the French...), decide to eat themselves to death. Of course, being French, they must arrive at their destination via a classic Bugatti roadster and can't finish the film without cavorting with all the local whores. It's existentialism for the glutton, a Dionysian fantasy of self-destruction by excess -- disgusting, disturbing and pure punk rock. It's a wonder more cooks haven't latched on to this one.

Apocalypse Now is a classic because on the one hand, that's where cooks learn their place in the insane hierarchy of the kitchen (you walk the path, from Willard to Kilgore to Kurtz, I was once told in an all-too-honest assessment of a chef's career), but on the other, it's a food movie. The action moves from the air-conditioned lunch in the commander's office ("I don't know how you feel about this shrimp, Captain, but if you eat it, you'll never have to prove your courage to me in any other way"), to the steak-and-beer barbecue on the sand after the beach assault and napalm strike, to the sacrificial slaughter of the cow at the end of Willard's journey up the river. And Full Metal Jacket? That's where cooks learn to talk and swagger.

(Why does the cook's patois borrow so heavily from the slang of the soldier in the field? Because cooks love war movies, work in an environment often overladen with blood and testosterone, translate their experiences easily through Coppola's and Kubrick's lenses, and find some common misery in the theme of good men in bad places. For that matter, soldiers probably talk that way because they, too, have watched too many war movies, but that's another story.)

And, of course, there's GoodFellas. I've gotten jobs purely on my ability to quote accurately from Henry Hill and Big Paulie's discussion about slicing the garlic, and that scene still drives cooks nuts, because why use a friggin' razor blade when you can cut just as fine, and faster, with the forte of a Sabatier? Anthony Bourdain often talks about taking his management style straight from The Godfather, and says this in his book A Cook's Tour: "Understand this about me -- and about most chefs, I'm guessing: For my entire professional career, I've been like Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part II, ordering up death over the phone, or with a nod or a glance. When I want meat, I make a call, or I give my sous-chef, my butcher, or my charcutier a look and they make the call. On the other end of the line, my version of Rocco, Al Neary, or Luca Brasi either does the job himself or calls somebody else who gets the thing done. Sooner or later, somewhere -- whether in the Midwest, or upstate New York, or on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, or as far away as Scotland -- something dies."

Beautiful.

Tony Macihe, the bar manager at Brix, is the first one to pick the apple-pie scene from American Pie. "Childish," he says, "but that's my contribution." My friend and occasional dining companion Sean Davis is partial to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom -- with the monkey brains and the big snake filled up with little snakes. Sean Kelly also likes The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover -- another French film, this one about sex and death and cannibalism at the high-end abattoir Le Hollandais, where the kitchen is the bloody, steaming dungeon of a cook's worst nightmares. There's also the cannibalistic Delicatessen; Peter Jackson's Bad Taste, about a group of space-faring restaurateurs who open a human-burger franchise; Soylent Green; and Silence of the Lambs, with its liver, fava beans and a nice key-aan-tee.

No one mentions a few of my favorites -- Heavy, the first half of Whiskey Down, Tampopo (which I remember only dimly, but fondly), Dinner Rush, Frankie and Johnny, and the scene in A Christmas Story where the family has Chinese duck for their Christmas dinner. But John Broening of Brasserie Rouge comes up with a couple of classics in grubnik-cinema greatness. First he mentions the hard-boiled-egg scene in Cool Hand Luke (a stone classic that I never even thought of until he mentioned it), and then says, "It looked like Newman was actually eating and swallowing all those eggs. How long do you think that must've taken?"

He also likes Life Is Sweet, by Mike Leigh, if for no other reason than the moment where the chef of the doomed restaurant describes his menu: pig's trotter with rhubarb hollandaise, spot prawn with strawberry jam. "It's funny," Broening says. "The spot prawn I actually saw once on a menu in St. Louis. Talk about truth being stranger than fiction."

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