'Cooking Up a Tribute': Film Review

Courtesy of SIFF
A foodie doc that works best when it goes off topic

One of the world's most famous restaurants takes its show on the road.

With it becoming commonplace these days to think of famous chefs as rock stars and hip, just-opened eateries as indie bands, perhaps it's inevitable that more and more restaurateurs will decide to take their meals on tour. Cooking Up a Tribute chronicles one of the more impractical-sounding such ventures, in which famed Catalonian restaurant El Celler de Can Roca spent five weeks hopping from Texas to Mexico to Colombia and Peru, intending to improvise with local ingredients as they went. Luis Gonzalez and Andrea Gomez's doc is an occasionally drool-worthy, sometimes edifying but often frustrating film that leaves too much of the story untold. Still, its subject's renown will attract attention from foodies.

One of many big unasked questions here is, how the hell did the restaurant afford to shut down for five weeks and fly dozens of kitchen and wait staff around the world to put on these dinners? Only an introductory title card (and a logo on the chefs' jackets) hints that the whole thing was underwritten by a multinational bank.

The film assumes we already know all about the restaurant, including the fact that its three main figures are brothers who split off from their parents' established business. We follow sommelier/maitre d' Josep Roca as he goes off to learn about the places his crew will visit, and this is by far the most interesting material in the film. We watch agave being smoked to produce mescal in Oaxaca, try not to get scalded as hot stones are thrown into fish soup to cook it, marvel at varieties of Peruvian potatoes like "Bull's Blood" and "Yellow Egg Yolk." The chefs and scholars Josep visits offer some fascinating background, especially about the way Peruvian cuisine has transformed Latin American culture. But by the time he gets to a long seaside pisco tasting, viewers may feel they're watching an advertorial for a luxury food tour they can't afford to take.

Flashing back to home base, talented chefs are putting together new dishes and plotting how to deal with the practicalities of delivering different tasting menus in different cities. But we're left with very little sense of how they got the ingredients they're playing with and knew what to do with them — and less still of how they discovered new elements once they were on the road, which was ostensibly the whole point.

The tour itself is an unsatisfying montage crammed into the last 15 or 20 minutes, made mostly of soundless kitchen shots accompanied by self-congratulatory audio of a post-tour meeting back in Spain. The Texas dinners were rough, we hear, but Gonzalez and Gomez don't show us anything going wrong, so we'll have to imagine the mishaps or friction. The only action they really show is in Lima, where the crew is brought out for a round of applause and moist-eyed "thank you's."

Directors-Screenwriters: Luis Gonzalez, Andrea Gomez

Executive producers: Ignacio Moliner, Manuel de Mora-Figueroa

Directors of photography: Jaime Rebato Felipe Vara de Rey

Editor: Nacho Ruiz Capillas

Music: Esteban Testolini

No rating, 83 minutes

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