When you’re working the line for hours and weeks at a time, sometimes, the day to day grind of working sixteen hour days and double shifts filled with screaming chefs and aching knees doesn’t do all that much to inspire you. Sometimes you need just a little more in terms of inspiration, and although the Food Network does wonders, there’s often nothing like a film to take you away to that special place where foodies dwell and prosper. Albeit fictional, films like this can definitely hit the spot and reignite that inspiration to wake up and do it all over again and maybe with a tad more gusto, so to speak.
I worked in the professional cooking industry before I was able to write full-time, and so many of these films inspired me time and time again, and perhaps they can inspire you too. After all, the food industry was hit hard during the pandemic, and maybe we can all use a little in the ways of inspiration.
Join us as we take a look at 10 inspirational cooking films you need to watch right now
Julie and Julia (2009)
This film, released in 2009, chronicles the life of one Julia Child, and for most of us who are in the know, Child is one of the greatest culinary minds to ever play the game of mixing, sautéing and braising in her kitchen. And as we learned in the film, her love of cooking didn’t at all stop in her home kitchen.
She wrote what is considered one of the greatest books on French Cuisine, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, written alongside Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck.
In this film, Child, played expertly by Meryl Streep, is seen in her early days, training in France and enjoying the art she dedicated her life to.
The magic in this film happens when a young writer, played by Amy Adams, finds a new lease on life, working her way through Julia’s recipes, writing a blog as she makes her way through each and every single one of them. A film that’s definitely worth your time.
To go to another side of the spectrum, we had to add this animated film about a rat who has dreamed of becoming a chef and so befriends a garbage boy in a Paris restaurant.
Needless to say, the fates of a rat colony, a garbage boy, a rat with big dreams and a food critic are all at stake, and all because of an epically prepared ratatouille.
This film always reminds me of when as a young chef, I got a position at a hotel restaurant, the chef a stern man in his fifties. He never smiled. I remember the first time I was asked into his office—I had just been hired—above his desk was a poster of this very film.
The rest of that day, as I chopped, sautéed and served, I couldn’t help but smile at the irony that someone so stern could have a poster of an animated movie on his office wall. Foodie films can inspire anyone I guess.
Big Night (1996)
Stanley Tucci stars in this, as well as in Julie and Julia. He played Child’s husband in that film. Tucci a foodie and cook book writer in his own right also hosts Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, in which he searches for the most authentic and greatest Italian recipes.
However, in this film, he plays a restaurant manager/owner, who opens a restaurant with his brother, Primo, played by Tony Shalhoub. The restaurant isn’t doing all that well and Primo is thinking of returning to Italy. In order to keep Primo in town and at the restaurant, Secondo (Tucci) plans a big night, where everything must go right in hopes of gaining some momentum for the restaurant.
He even invites a local Jazz celebrity. Even Primo gets excited and goes all out. But does it go as planned? Does the big night pay off? Or is it just a disaster waiting to happen? The results are hilarious, touching and inspiring. If you love food and food culture, make the time for this one, I implore you.
Frankie and Johnny (1991)
Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer didn’t only team up in Scarface. A few years later, they paired up for this love story that’ll move you and entertain you for sure.
Pacino plays an ex-convict who finds a love for food in prison and learns how to cook in the cafeteria there. He actually becomes an ace in the kitchen and upon his release gets a job at a local diner where he meets an ill-tempered waitress. He finds love through his love for cooking and learns a bunch of lessons along the way.
Last Holiday (2006)
What would you do if you heard that it would all be over in a matter of weeks, God forbid? I bet you would plan the most exquisite two weeks imaginable and do what you always wanted, breaking the bank even.
In this film, Queen Latifah’s character, who is in fact dealt such a situation, decides to go and do just what we described and ends up cooking with one of the greatest chefs in the world.
But the film isn’t as bleak as all that…many lessons are learned, and much epic food is consumed.
Vatel is played expertly by Gerard Depardieu (who actually played the chef in Last Holiday, above).
Francois Vatel is a historical figure—a chef of French/Swiss origin (there is some contention as to where he’s from). Vatel was charged with the responsibility of cooking a banquet for over 2,000 people in honor of Louis XIV. When he was made aware of the fact that his seafood delivery would be arriving late, he ended his own life. His body was found when someone had entered the kitchen to say that in the end, the fish had in fact arrived.
The film has many other layers interspersed.
The following film is a tad more serious in scope. More serious than Vatel? I’d say yes, in the fact that this film took the culinary field a tad too seriously if you ask me. A very good film in scope, but the term trying a little too hard, comes to mind for sure.
Bradley Cooper heads this one up and like No Reservations with Catherine Zeta-Jones, it takes itself a tad too seriously. So many of the scenes are literal rip-offs of the countless scenes on Hell’s Kitchen where Ramsay can often be seen losing his mind.
Avenging Angelo (2002)
A film starring Sylvester Stallone definitely doesn’t seem to belong on a foodie list such as this one, but bear with old Dom for just a nano-second here. He actually plays a chef and this isn’t at all an action flick. Stallone, who played one of the greatest dramatic characters of all time, Rocky Balboa, plays this part very well.
In it, he plays a mobster’s henchman who has two loves…his boss’s long-lost daughter, and food. His dream is to cook in Italy and to live happily ever after with his true love.
Do his dreams come true, or do the issues thrown into the plot stop him from achieving those goals?
The greatest film of all films, in my opinion, sees Jon Favreau truly capturing the essence of a real chef. He wrote, directed and starred in the film about a chef who takes a road trip with his son, best friend and sous-chef, after getting a scathing review. He quits his job as chef at a local hot spot and being disillusioned with the restaurant industry, goes to find that passion on a culinary road trip that would inspire anyone.
The vibrant colors of the cinematography and direction in this one are beautiful, as are the many scenes of food prep. I actually learned how to make my spicy/sweet Asian sauté sauce for baby squid watching the cooking segments in this film.
Kitchen Confidential (2005)
Okay, we’re cheating a tad, but this list wouldn’t be complete without the TV series based on the Anthony Bourdain classic. Unfortunately we only got one season, but it’s worth checking out.
It didn’t last but it was a heck of a lot better than Burnt, Cooper doing a better job of portraying a chef this time around (his first time doing so, in fact), and without any of the other hang-ups I complained about in the entry above.
What films do you love that are based on our collective passion for great food? Are there any foodie films that weren’t on the list? Let us know in the comments.