Spinning Plates

 

Spinning Platees is a documentary about three very different American restaurants. Watching so much food being prepared left me feeling ravenous, wishing I was there!

Alinea

As a foodie and art lover, I would love to eat at the exclusive Alinea restaurant in Chicago. Michelin-starred, it is one of America’s most highly-acclaimed restaurants. I loved the playful artistry and creativity of its chef and the elegant setting. Chef Achatz, a world leader in the art of molecular gastronomy, deconstructs and puts food back together again in the most inventive ways. This can be incredibly time consuming; one of his courses can take five people twelve hours to make.

Achatz loves to surprise his guests with unexpected aromas. For example, one dish is served on a pillow perforated with tiny holes. The pillow gradually deflates, releasing a gentle pine needle fragrance throughout the meal. While I imagine this would be a delightful sensuous experience, my partner John thinks it very pretentious to balance food on a pillow.  He likes his food firmly anchored on the table. And he would rather eat a good steak than a series of Chef Achatz’s bite sized artistic creations. In any case, Alinea would be way beyond our eating out budget: dinner and matching wines for two could set you back $1000.

Breitbach’s Country Dining

 

Both of us would enjoy the relaxed community atmosphere at Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown, Iowa, a 150-year-old family restaurant. When it was first opened in 1852, it was a popular stagecoach stop for cross-country travellers and still serves Middle American homely kind of food. John would attack a plateful of their famous spicy deep-fried chicken (of which they make bucket loads) and some of their homemade fruit pie with great pleasure. But even he would find the oversized portions a challenge. Americans have BIG appetites.

La Cocina de Gabby

Mindful of expanding waistlines and rising cholesterol levels, we’d be most likely to head for la Cocina de Gabby, a small Mexican restaurant in Tucson, Arizona. It’s named after owner Francisco’s wife who does all the cooking. In this little Mexican place, authentic recipes passed on from mother to daughter are enthusiastically served up.

Spinning Plates is about more than food preparation and plating up. The underlying narrative is about the passion shown and struggles faced by each of these restaurateurs.

In 2007 Achatz, the father of a young family, was diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer and he continues to face a potential death knell to his career. His passion for cooking is such that this has not slowed him down. He is determined that his restaurant should achieve a three star Michelin status.

Breitbach’s is well established, runs to capacity and is a very popular community hub. In the mornings they serve breakfast to the elderly locals and if anyone is missing someone will check whether they are alright. But when some unexpected disasters happen Breitbach’s owners also have a battle for survival on their hands which they will only be able to overcome with enormous community support.

The Martinez couple started their little restaurant (which they run as by themselves with occasional help from relations) not only to follow their passion for cooking traditional Mexican food but also to provide a future for their young daughter. They are unable to afford child care so their pre-schooler has to spend all day at la Cocina de Gabby with them. The family took a huge financial risk to set up their restaurant but are finding it difficult to attract enough customers to pay the mortgage. This is a very stressful for them as they continually run very close to foreclosure on both their house and restaurant. 

This movie is very different from watching MasterChef on TV. While MasterChef is entertaining it is only a competition and far removed from the real life dramas and the huge amount of work involved in running a restaurant. 

I found the courage and determination of all the three restaurant owners, and their undiminished passion for producing great food when faced with major obstacles, both heart-warming and moving.  

Spinning Plates, a Rialto movie, will be out in movie theatres from March 6, 2014

read more from Lyn Potter here