We’re all living in a takeout world these days. But there’s one simple way to relive the clatter of plates, the buzz of a packed restaurant and the pleasure of sitting down to a meal with loved ones, and that’s just by firing up a film.
All titles are readily available via multiple streaming services (free where noted), with the exception of “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” (Netflix only).
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories
2016-2019, free with Netflix subscription (last two seasons only)
This is a Japanese series about a Japanese chef [played by Kaoru Kobayashi] who cooks food to order. This chef owns a tiny yet comfortable hole in the wall, and he opens every night at midnight. The customers are able to request any dish, and the chef will cook it. The dishes that people request are comfort dishes, so it reminds me of the food I cooked at Conbini by Uzu. Each episode focuses on one dish, and the episode tells the story of the customer who ordered that dish. I feel really nostalgic when I watch this show.
— Hiro Mitsui, Ramen by Uzu founder and executive chef
Unconventional food scenes are hilariously sprinkled throughout the movie. The most iconic one everyone’s going to reference is the food-poisoning scene, but I think the funniest ones that are kind of downplayed a little bit. Like the bridal shower — where [Kristen Wiig]’s breaking the cookie in half and sticking her fingers in the chocolate fountain and screaming and having a full-blown rant for two minutes — is also pretty brilliant. Kristen Wiig is a baker in the movie and there are baking scenes sprinkled throughout. We see her playing with fondant, baking this beautiful cupcake in the privacy of her home and then just shoveling it in her mouth at the end of the night.
2009, free with Sling subscription
This is one of my favorite movies of all time, [especially the scene] when Meryl Streep just starts making croissants at midnight with Steve Martin. She’s in her second coming-of-age, having this renaissance with this funny man, sneaking off in the middle of the night to make one of the most complicated pastries of all time — and having fun with it, effortlessly. If you ever watch people making croissants, they’re always super focused. It’s [usually] not a very jovial environment. When you watch Steve eat the croissants — the overwhelming joy on his face — literally, every part of that scene is the epitome of how you feel when you’re eating your favorite pastry.
— Ayeshah Abuelhiga, Mason Dixie Biscuits founder and CEO
Julie & Julia
2009, free with Netflix subscription.
One of my favorite films. It echoed my own experience while living in Boston in the 1970s. Of course, this was before blogs. Watching it, I felt like I was going back to my 20s when I cooked my way through “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I don’t know what made me cook a French recipe. But I remember making Julia Child’s sole bonne-femme and absolutely flipping out. I thought it was the best thing I had ever tasted in my entire life. It was interesting: I really did it all by myself, and I felt like [the Julie character in the film, played by Amy Adams] needed a whole lot of support. There was a lot of drama, but probably that made for a more interesting movie.
— Susan Gage, owner of Susan Gage Caterers
Just to see a woman [Catherine Zeta Jones] in leadership was really nice, and not have her be berated or bashed for being a woman, it was just celebrated in that movie. Having her sous-chef in the beginning of that movie be pregnant and working and seeing that environment and that positivity toward women — I was like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” I watch it all the time. It’s something familiar, but almost wildly progressive for its time.
— Paola Velez, executive pastry chef at Kith and Kin
Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a chef who is given a magic crab that causes her cooking to be euphoric. Those that eat it are briefly put into this love-like trance, and people start falling in love with her. It is a total chick flick — but also every chef’s dream.
— Alexandra Cheppa, executive pastry chef at Buzz Bakeshop
1997, free with Hulu subscription
I take solace in the fact that for many families, the forced separation of this pandemic has actually brought them closer together. And as we all know, the bedrock of every family is Mom. In this movie, “Big Mama” [Irma P. Hall] bestowed many values on her children before her untimely death, but none more important than: “A family that eats together, stays together” — part of their 40-year tradition of a weekly dinner on Sunday of soul food. Many great American traditions are at risk because of this pandemic, but food for the soul is too important to let slip away.
— Andre McCain, HalfSmoke founder and CEO
Eat Drink Man Woman
If I had to choose a favorite movie that prominently features food I would have to go through my list of Asian movies. I started cooking around a dinner table with that Asian “competitive” factor with women in my family, so “The Joy Luck Club,” “Tampopo,” “Cook Up A Storm” all come to mind. They not only feature cooking as a labor of love but also the notion of who does it better, both of which pretty much set the ambitious tone of my career. But a best and most deliciously extravagant movie about food for me has got to be “Eat Drink Man Woman.” Beyond the mentioned qualities, the movie shows me that in the midst of trying to live a life different from their forebears, food is a great connective leveler of generations and disparate traditions. In terms of cooking, it also really shows that it’s very labor intensive. You’ve really got to put your heart and soul into it.
1994, free with Starz subscription
I love this film by Quentin Tarantino, featuring one of my favorite supporting actors: the all-American cheeseburger. From the iconic diner scene with Uma Thurman to the shootout that takes place after a long discussion about the merits of fast-food burgers, the all-American cheeseburger was practically a member of the movie’s cast. To me, there are few signs that signal the start of the summer season as reliably as a burger hot off the grill, with pickles, onions and plenty of cheese. And in these uncertain times, the cheeseburger is a classic comfort food. Just one bite is enough to take you back to all the great memories of cookouts and good times past, to hold you over as we weather the current circumstances.
1990, free with Hulu subscription
Growing up in an Italian household, the dinner-in-prison scene from this movie epitomizes the small details that make any dinner delicious. As cliche as it might be, the components of the dinner are what make me look forward to big dinners with friends and family. Everyone pays attention to the details of how Paulie [Paul Sorvino] slices garlic, but it’s the excitement that comes about when the prosciutto, wine and bread hit the table that I connect with: Now we can eat! The guys are in one of the worst places they could possibly be (jail), but fully transformed to a home Sunday dinner when food and friends are involved.
— Ed McIntosh, Chop Shop Taco chef and partner
Coming to America
My favorite food scene is in this movie. When the owner of McDowell’s [restaurant] explains: “[McDonald’s] got the golden arches; mine is the golden arcs,” he clarifies. “They got the Big Mac. I got the Big Mick. We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions. But their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds.” I love it because you can see the owner’s passion for his arguments. Sometimes it’s the small, subtle differences that make or break a brand or a menu item. Like those sesame seeds.
— Amir Mostafavi, South Block founder and CEO
1988, free with Sling subscription
I watched that movie a lot when I was growing up. I really liked how the main characters were all women, especially the restaurant owner was a woman, and you just didn’t see a lot of that as a kid. I just really liked the camaraderie of the restaurant and how the owner was a mother figure. There are a lot of funny parts to it, like the food critic who comes and they’re all watching him eat his pizza.
— Shannan Troncoso, Brookland's Finest chef and co-owner