STEP UP TO THE PLATE (ENTRE LES BRAS)
Directed by: Paul Lacoste
Lately there has been a popular movement in documentary filmmaking to focus on food and the masters who perfect cuisine. Maybe it’s because it’s a biological urge to eat – and eat things that taste and look delish. Over the past year, we’ve seen JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI and EL BULLI tap into the foodie zeitgeist. Now we are treated to France’s STEP UP TO THE PLATE which not only showcases the haute cuisine of the Bras restaurants, but the playful, loving relationship between a father and son. The film is as flawless and precise as the cuisine being prepared.
The documentary charts the last year of world renowned three-star Michelin chef Michel Bras before he retires. He is handing down his two restaurants to his son Sébastian (who’s a dead ringer for Vincent Cassell). Their relationship has a sweetly delicate dynamic. Not only do they learn from each other, but both gently (and sometimes bluntly) push each other to do better and feed off each other’s ideas. Surprisingly, no one takes criticism better than these two.
STEP UP TO THE PLATE is the perfect companion piece to JIRO, and the two are similar in many ways. Since the pair own and operate a branch of their restaurant in Japan, Sébastian makes mention of the sushi chef’s tradition of handing down a restaurant from one generation to the next. Such is the same for the men (and women) in the Bras family. You also get to see how much work is put into just one dish.
Since most of us will never be able to afford to travel to the remote plains of Laguiole, France to stay and dine at their hotel-restaurant, the documentary offers a mouthwatering alternative. Not only is it a delight, but it’s what foodies dream of – a modern, crisply designed restaurant set amidst the expansive French provincial countryside. The seasonal approach to the restaurant’s haute cuisine is also reflected in the seasonal structure of the documentary. This is as meticulously shot and edited as what diners see on their plates. It’s a comprehensive and compelling portrait of these master chefs.
Perhaps what I enjoyed most about the documentary is that it is sparingly narrated. Pictures and newspaper clippings tell the story rather than an overload of talking heads. The film is a refined balance of the two chefs at play with family and friends in and out of the kitchen. The filmmakers beautifully communicate the sense of pride the pair feel when they painstakingly create a dish. And the two comically play off each other in a hilarious way that has to be seen. It’s also a transcendent experience seeing these culinary designs come together on the big screen. It made me salivate more than I’d like to admit.
It’s inspirational filmmaking and something to aspire to in the kitchen. We should all be so rich – both to be able to afford to eat there, and to be lucky enough to have the wealth of family like the Bras men.
STEP UP TO THE PLATE is now playing in New York at the Lincoln Plaza and Quad Cinema. It opens in Los Angeles on October 12.