I recalled watching "Babette's Feast" (1988) when I was initially brainstorming topics for the Talk to Me About Food podcast. I made a note to view it again because I remember the movie glorifying the rituals of a feast; Babette composing her haute cuisine menu, the sourcing of the ingredients, the intricate preparation of the meal, and her guests savoring each course but also devouring the spirit of the occasion. I found the film streaming somewhere, and watched it. The movie and food are worth talking about.
Eater.com thinks so too. "Babette's Feast" featured in an article this week entitled "A Movie-able Feast: Criterion Channel Has a Smorgasbord of Great Food Movies Right Now." Esra Erol touches on this Danish movie as well as "Tampopo" (a memorable Japanese film that I have seen as well) and five other food-centered classics I've not heard of but now want to indulge in. Criterion Channel may be the best place to find these films, and a thousand other classics, for a $99 annual subscription.
If you haven't seen the movie, "Babette's Feast" centers on Babette, a once chef de cuisine at the most famous restaurant in nineteenth-century Paris, and two spinster sisters in a tiny, God-fearing village in rural Denmark, who are thrown together when Babette, fleeing from France, knocks on their door in a storm. The film culminates in a cathartic, seven-course meal of sea turtle soup, caviar on blinis, whole, fried quail, beef head stew, endive salad, fine cheeses, exotic fruit, and a soufflé, all served with bottles of exquisite wines. You can almost feel the body heat of the guests in their starched finest, crowded in a candlelit dining room, and smell their woozy breath coming through the screen. The effect is satiation.
We haven't exactly been preparing feasts for the past nine weeks, but we have been putting more thought and effort into the process of making family meals. There's a changing weekly dinner menu which incorporates family favorites, something new, and a dish or meal that requires a bit more effort. Mostly we have been improvising at lunch by cobbling together familiar sandwiches or creating a mash-up of leftovers, but we have spontaneously made something fresh on occasion. A tangy three-bean salad, lentil soup, or tortilla de patatas. Food shopping has been something of an adventure. Not the trek that brought Babette her provisions all the way from France, but navigating the aisles, trying to keep the proper distance with other shoppers also peering over their masks, searching for ingredients we haven't used or bought from that store has kept us on our toes.
Are we taking more pleasure out of eating at home? I think so. We're putting more into the process so we are getting more out of it too. "Babette's Feast" reminds me that there's even more to to get out of this daily ritual. Feeding ourselves and others easily descends into a discombobulated chore, especially during the school and work week. It can be a labor of love. Babette spent every last penny of her life-changing lottery winnings on creating this once-in-a-lifetime feast as a grand gesture of gratitude to foreign strangers who took her in. But also to revel in watching, sensing their pleasure, a communal pleasure of feasting on what she knew only a special chef could create. What generosity of spirit.