It’s officially spring, which means many of us have plants on the mind, as well as the food they produce. We’ll be frequenting farmer’s markets and loading soil and fertilizer into cars. We’ll be digging and planting and weeding and watering. And then we’ll be waiting.
This whole process makes me think of the fruit of the Spirit. Food production is so much about love, joy, patience, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. In fact, I suspect a wise farmer could craft a whole philosophy of work around Galatians 5 and be quite successful. The same could be said of chefs, the best of which are guided by these Christian fruits even if they don’t know it.
Really great food documentaries reveal this dynamic at work. And so here are five contemplative, moving foodie movies worth chewing over this spring.
From director Jason Wise, this 2012 doc tells the story of four candidates undergoing the ultra-challenging Master Sommelier examination, a test so difficult that only 230 people from around the world were granted the Master Sommelier diploma between 1969 and 2015. As you might imagine, Somm is both harrowing and inspiring, an ode to the value of artistic mastery, while also being a deeply human story about passion, failure, and, ultimately, perseverance. It’s a reminder of the great heights humanity can reach when gifting, moxie, and purposefulness meet.
Roger Ebert once described this 2011 film about a famous sushi chef as “a portrait of tunnel vision,” which is something that could probably said of every film on this list. But Jiro stands out as an examination of an artist so dedicated to precision and perfection, so imbued with self-control and exactitude, that he’s become a legend, a master, and a maestro. Like an era-defining athlete who changes the rules of his or her sport, Jiro Ono helped revolutionize an entire culinary approach and establish a new way of thinking about one of the world’s most formative (and popular) dining experiences.
Chef’s Table, Season 1, Episode 1
I suspect a wise farmer could craft a whole philosophy of work around Galatians 5 and be quite successful.
Still my favorite episode from Netflix’s mesmerizing documentary series, this pilot tells the story of Massimo Bottura, a three-Michelin-star chef from Modena, Italy, whose mission is to preserve a robust, shared cultural memory of what makes Italian food sophisticated artistry and uplifting comfort food at once. Whether he’s spearheading a campaign to save a large supply of Italy’s finest Parmigiano Reggiano or revering traditional methods of pasta-making, Bottura is a faithful custodian of historic and unrivaled gastronomic invention.
Any list of great food documentaries necessarily has to include at least one film about the ethics of modern food production. Like the recently released Wendell Berry-centric doc, Look & See, Sustainable is a work that declares that “we owe a debt to those of the past and we can only pay it to the future.” It asks us to contemplate what it means to love the earth and those who tend to it as much as ourselves. A film like this reminds us Christian love cannot be limited to those whom we know now. Rather, we are responsible for providing a future that enables our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to flourish (and multiply). Sustainable challenges us to consider what that means in relation to our eating habits. It’s not only a political question. It’s an inherently Christian question.
For many true foodies, Danish chef Rene Redzepi is a superhero. He has been hugely influential in the evolution of Nordic cuisine, presenting Scandinavian ingredients formerly considered low-class as stately and impressive works of gastronomic art. But as this documentary reveals, Redzepi is beloved not so much for his creativity and craft, but more for his love and passion for the ingredients he uses. He is dedicated to his place, and he takes great joy in the tastes and smells—all the sensory experiences—that his home offers. Like any great chef, Redzepi uses what is available to him based on the seasons. But few chefs can express joy and love for the seasons and their yield the way Redzepi does. Every color and flavor and scent in every dish reveals his joy, his love, his passion for the ingredients and, in fact, for the diners who will enjoy his artistry. No wonder people describe a Redzepi meal as a religious experience.