Five mouth-watering films about cooking

A lot of people have made cooking a large part of their lockdown routine. Attempting more adventurous recipes, sharing the results on social media, and soaking up the mesmerising meshing of tastes that linger for hours after the last bite. It is little surprise that most films about cooking also work as top-notch eye candy content – the best films about food and cooking are hypnotic, a kaleidoscope of textures and colours that (if they do their job well) leave you with insatiable cravings. Sound like your sweet spot? Here are five of the best films about cooking to really sink your teeth into.

Ratatouille (2007)

Perhaps the crème de la crème of cooking movies, Pixar somehow took a bad pun about rats and ratatouille and turned it into a gorgeous, heartwarming film about friendship and ambition. Remy’s adventures and Linguini’s mishaps are the beating heart of the film, but it would have far less appeal if it wasn’t for the food. Everything from the bronzed wonder of Gusteau’s kitchen to the eye-popping patterns that gloriously visualise taste make this animated gem one that’s full to the brim with outstanding grub. Not only is the food golden, but the depiction of cooking – based on instinct and feel as much as it is exact measurements and precision – reassures you that indeed, as the saying goes, anyone can cook.

Mostly Martha (2001)

This early noughties German comedy was the inspiration for an almost identically premised 2007 remake starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, but the original is superior in almost every way. Played out to the alluring soundtrack of Paolo Conte’s ‘It’s Wonderful,’ Mostly Martha is a beautiful depiction of how cooking is not only an important part of you, but helps to craft and shape the relationships you have with others. There is a tinge of predictability as to how it plays out on paper, but writer-director Sandra Nettelbeck deftly sidesteps clichés in depicting how Martha slowly lets others into her high-achieving life. Mostly Martha didn’t start the sub-genre of cooking melo-comedies, but it is perhaps the most complete representation of what that looks like – complete, once again, with a gorgeous palette of foodie treats. 

Chef (2014)

Who wouldn’t want to see Jon Favreau open a food truck? At a time where the Marvel Cinematic Universe was rapidly reaching a popularity peak, Favreau took time away from superheroes to direct, write and star in something very different (although MCU regulars Scarlett Johannson and Robert Downey Jr. came along for the ride). Favreau plays a head chef who is frustrated at the restrictions placed on his food, so quits to open a food truck – while at the same time trying to reconnect with his increasingly distant family. Watching Favreau work his magic with food is an utter delight, with some tantalising, delicious snacks decorating almost every other shot. Not one to watch just before dinner time.

Julie & Julia (2009)

Julie & Julia proved to be Nora Ephron’s last film before her death in 2012, and it encapsulates the way she always managed to portray the ups and downs of life with such down-to-earth beauty, complete with the odd magical touch. Running two cooking stories concurrently, it is yet another feather in Meryl Streep’s cap as she hustles and finely dices her way to the top of the culinary game. Amy Adams’ character Julie tries to follow in her footsteps in search of purpose in her life, and it turns into a beautiful story of personal development as well as personal strength. Adams’ status as one of her generation’s best is obvious here, and with the challenge of cooking over 500 recipes in just 365 days, it feels at times like there is more food in this movie than you could eat in a lifetime.

Today’s Special (2009)

If you like your Indian food, you will love this. If you love stories about heritage and finding your way in the world, you will love this even more. Independently produced, Today’s Special follows sous-chef Samir as he finds himself in charge of his family’s Indian restaurant in Queens – with almost no knowledge of Indian food. Those who are a sucker for a good curry or any Indian dish will find plenty to satisfy their taste buds in Samir’s story of rediscovery. Told with a lot of heart and some irresistible shots of amazing dishes, Today’s Special showcases much of what makes cooking films such a unique yet enduring sub-genre in cinema.

What all these films show is how cooking and food can form a large part of who you are, even if it takes you time to realise it. They all involve culinary journeys that represent more than what’s on the plate: people change, learn and grow all because of food. It is not purely sustenance, but identity, memory and a sense of belonging. Remember that the next time you try a recipe for the first time. You are serving up a new part of who you are.

James Hanton

James is a contributor to Outtake, Starburst Magazine and The Wee Review. He is also the former Editor-in-Chief of The Student, the oldest student newspaper in the UK. A recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh, James is looking for paid writing gigs so he doesn't fall into the endless abyss of graduate unemployment. He can be contacted at: jhantonwriter@gmail.com