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Slow Food Movement Meets Fine Dining in Fest's Culinary Cinema Section (Berlin)

The Perfect Oyster
Pixel One Productions

BERLIN -- Dieter Kosslick certainly has his pet peeves -- and most of them are not easily linked to the world of cinema. Which doesn't stop the Berlinale director, in his own true fashion, from connecting them -- be it toy-bears that are fashioned in Germany instead of China, the (yet unrealized) idea of recycling festival bags by only giving visitors a new front-plate every year, or creating Culinary Cinema, a special program that combines films with a first-class dining experience afterward.

And while the idea, the extension of a 2006 talent-campus competition named Hunger, Food and Taste, seemed like a folly five years ago, times have certainly caught up with it. "Now for the first time, with the dioxin scandal, people realize why we've been doing this," says Kosslick, referring to the latest food-scandal to hit Germany. Long gone are the days when slow food was a shorthand for not tipping lazy waiters, while words like local, ecological and sustainable have now become a staple of the kitchen vernacular.

The Culinary program starts with Anna Lee's The Recipe, which chronicles a TV reporter's search for the perfect bowl of Doenjang jjigae soup. On the menu for the rest of the week is Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Monday, The Ways of Wine on Tuesday, Even the Rain on Wednesday, and Toast on Thursday.

The format has not changed much since day one: top chefs asked to create set menus to be served after films that deal with food in an appetizing way (films that touch upon the same subject in a more ecologically and socially minded way are shown at 10 p.m. sans dinner). But, as the program's director Thomas Struck readily admits, its popularity has long overshot its capacity, with all main movie-and-a-dinner showings selling out on Day 1. Add to this the 5 p.m. tea-times, discussions, reading or wine-and-cheese tastings, and you got a fully fledged program ready to whet your appetite.

Getting it to this point meant a lot of fine-tuning, though. As Chef Michael Hoffmann, who opened the very first edition in 2007 recalls, "there were a lot of things that were not 100% perfect. Logistics didn't quite work. I also made a mistake: I prepared one course, but people came out of the cinema rather hungry and expected a full set menu."

Chef Michael Kempf recalls a similar, but more recent experience: "Last year I only did one course and was not so happy about it, because appetizer and dessert didn't quite fit. This year I decided to do the menu completely, even though it means more work."

And, while it's obvious to all parties involved that the biggest advertising for the slow food movement does indeed come from the unending series of food-scandals to hit the headlines, this might be for the greater good. And, as the image of a drowning polar bear advances the cause of global warming more than any scientific data ever could, it's not hard to see the silver lining that media attention can bestow: "Every food scandal that happens these days is of help to me," says Hoffmann, "We cannot change the world. But I have taken steps during recent years -- we've abandoned goose-liver, tuna -- I like to eat it, but do not serve it."

This sentiment is echoed by Kosslick himself: "Eating well, eating properly isn't some elite concept. We don't want to erect a temple for gourmets. We want to raise awareness of what industrial farming and industrial eating means, and that there is an alternative."