A meal in the film "Chef," directed, written and starring Jon Favreau. There were no photographic tricks or food "styling" in the
A meal in the film "Chef," directed, written and starring Jon Favreau. There were no photographic tricks or food "styling" in the movie. All of the food shown in the movie is edible. open road films

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By Jessica Contrera

The Washington Post

The theater is dark, the film is rolling -- and your mouth is watering.

Forget popcorn. This feast is for your eyes: sizzling green tomatoes, perfectly pink onions, a ripe zucchini being expertly chopped. At the helm of the knife? An actor you know and love.

Ogling food on the big screen has gotten easier and easier now that so many culinary-focused films are hitting theaters. In the past year alone we've seen "The Lunchbox," about the relationship that begins when a woman's appetizing creations are mistakenly delivered to a stranger in India; "Chef," directed, written and starring Jon Favreau; and "The Hundred-Foot Journey" with Helen Mirren.

These aren't just romantic comedies that happen to include chefs. The story lines depend on the food itself: who is cooking, what is being cooked and how the food will change the plot.

"The food is an important character itself," said Juliet Blake, who produced "The Hundred-Foot Journey" with Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg. These movies let you see the dishes come to life, from the pouring of oil into an empty pan to the first bite. Blake said Mirren put it this way: Don't eat before the movie, but make sure you have reservations afterward.

When the camera is focused on the kitchen, director and actors can no longer expect to fake their way through the culinary arts.


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The growing popularity of food television shows such as "Chopped" and "Top Chef" has heightened expectations for food movies as well. The films' creators have to make a greater effort for the kitchens and the food itself to be believable -- and delectable -- on screen. Even the most talented actor couldn't pretend to chop an onion.

For Manish Dayal, that meant going off to culinary school.

Manish Dayal went to culinary school to make his scenes in "The Hundred-Foot Journey" realistic. dreamworksSun staff photos can be ordered by
Manish Dayal went to culinary school to make his scenes in "The Hundred-Foot Journey" realistic. dreamworks

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
In "The Hundred-Foot Journey," Dayal plays a young chef whose family has moved to southern France to start an Indian restaurant (to the dismay of a French restaurateur across the street, played by Mirren). Just as Dayal's character eventually trains with the French greats, the producers sent the actor to a strict Paris cooking institute where he learned the basics.

Favreau took a less conventional but more intensive route by following Los Angeles chef Roy Choi for more than two months. Choi is known for his Korean taco truck, Kogi, making him the perfect fit for a movie about a chef who leaves a high-profile restaurant and finds his mojo on a food truck.

Choi was heavily involved in making the kitchens in "Chef" seem realistic. Instead of building a restaurant, as did the makers of "The Hundred-Foot Journey," Choi and Favreau filmed in the kitchen of Hatfield's in L.A. The film's characters also drive across the country and visit famous food establishments, including Franklin Barbecue in Austin and Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans.

Every detail of the "Chef" kitchens -- the menu, the plastic mixing containers, even the folding of aprons -- was chosen not for aesthetic value but to mimic reality.

"We set up the environments and cooked the food as if we were really opening a restaurant," Choi said.

In "The Hundred-Foot Journey," script writers made a point of incorporating real traditions of French and Indian cuisine. One of the film's key moments is when Mirren's character uses the making of an omelet as the litmus test of a chef's abilities.

As each ingredient of the omelet (chervil, tarragon, parsley) is lovingly tossed into the pan, it seems almost wrong that the theater isn't serving eggs to you, too.

The food looks so good, the producers say, because it is good. Every morsel in "The Hundred-Foot Journey" and in "Chef" is edible. Production techniques often used in advertising, such as spraying the food to make it shinier or gluing it in place, were prohibited.

Chefs, not food stylists, cooked and plated each dish, often many times over, so when a "first bite" scene needed to be filmed more than once, there would always be an untouched meal for the fork to pierce -- and for the staff to eat when the scene's filming was complete, said "The Hundred-Foot Journey" actor Om Puri. 

Given the "Chef"' scenes of sugar drifting over berries, bread toasting in a grill and beef brisket releasing its juices onto a cutting board, it's clear that the bar has been raised for what food should look like in films.

If production schedules stay on course, food-focused movies will continue taunting hungry stomachs in the foreseeable future: "Trip to Italy," a restaurant-hopping road-trip comedy, hits theaters next week, and Bradley Cooper's long-awaited chef film is set to open in 2015.

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Apricot-Spiced Crepes

Adapted from a recipe developed by Le Creuset in honor of the film "The Hundred-Foot Journey."

Makes 6 to 8 8-to-10-inch crepes

Ingredients

For the crepes

1 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup whole milk, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

Vegetable oil, for frying

Sugar, for serving

Crème fraîche or sour cream, for serving (optional)

For the filling

8 ounces fresh apricots, pitted and cut into thin slices

8 ounces drained canned apricot halves

3 tablespoons crème fraiche or sour cream

1/4 teaspoon apple pie spice (may substitute a combination of ground allspice, cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg)

For the crepes: Sift the flour and salt together into a mixing bowl. Make a well at the center; add the eggs and 1/2 cup of the milk. Whisk until smooth, then whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and the cooled butter. Cover loosely and let stand at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours; the consistency should be like that of heavy cream. If it's too thick, stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons of milk.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Combine the fresh and canned apricots, the crème fraîche or sour cream and the apple pie spice blend in a blender or food processor; puree until smooth. Transfer to a liquid measuring cup (with a pour spout); refrigerate until ready to use. The yield is a scant 2 cups.

Heat the crepe pan or skillet over medium heat. Brush or wipe the inside surface with a small amount of the oil. The pan is ready when water flicked onto the cooking surface sizzles and evaporates in seconds. Pour in about 1/4 cup of the batter and immediately tilt the pan to spread the batter evenly over the bottom. Cook for about 90 seconds or until the top appears dry and the bottom is lightly browned. Flip the crepe over and cook for 30 seconds or until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate.

If the first crepe seems too thick, stir 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk into the remaining batter to achieve the desired consistency.

Repeat the crepe-making with the remaining batter.

To serve, spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the apricot puree over half of each crepe, then fold the crepe into quarters. Arrange on plates; sprinkle lightly with sugar and add a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream, if desired. Spoon any remaining puree over each portion.

Nutrition per serving (based on 8): 170 calories, 5 g protein, 19 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 105 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar