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'Spinning Plates' documentary looks the tale of three disparate restaurants

Acclaimed chef Grant Achatz of the restaurant, Alinea, in Chicago, is shown in a scene from the documentary "Spinning Plates." THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
December 05, 2013 - 5:00 AM

TORONTO, Cananda - The director of the new restaurant documentary "Spinning Plates" has a theory as to why TV programs about food continue to be wildly popular.

"Food is just so universal and familiar to everyone. It's comfortable, it's an emotional medium," said Joseph Levy, who cut his teeth producing the Food Network program "Into the Fire."

"Even for people who aren't self-proclaimed foodies and don't go follow the hottest pop-up restaurants ... you probably still remember with fondness the first meal you ever had with your spouse, or the night you proposed, or a Thanksgiving or holiday meal that your grandparent might have made for you."

Added the filmmaker: "In the same way that music can bring back great feelings and great memories, so can food."

"Spinning Plates" — which is screening in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and will be released Friday on iTunes — tells the story of three very different restaurants and the passionate personalities that drive them.

Gorgeously shot, it's a loving ode to food, a topic that has captivated Levy ever since his childhood in Corpus Christi, Tex.

The first restaurant profiled in "Spinning Plates" is world-renowned Chicago eatery Alinea, headed up by molecular gastronomy guru Grant Achatz (whom Levy first encountered while working on "Into the Fire"). The chef is a creative marvel, constantly driven to top his own culinary masterpieces (and to land the highest possible rating from the revered Michelin restaurant guide).

The artistry of Alinea is a far cry from Breitbach's Country Dining, the second establishment featured in "Spinning Plates." The oldest bar and restaurant in Iowa, its specialties are pie and fried chicken, served up by the tightly knit Breitbach clan — with help from residents of the tiny community of Balltown.

Rounding out the narrative is Cocina de Gabby — an upstart mom-and-pop outfit run by a struggling Mexican couple in Tucson, Ariz.

"I wanted to take three restaurants that were seemingly disparate," explains Levy, 40. "For me the movie is really about how meaningful food can be and the places that serve it."

Levy did his homework when searching for his subjects: he knew that Achatz and the Breitbach family had overcome some formidable obstacles, which he depicted in the film. He couldn't, however, predict the fate of the Mexican restaurant, but said it was important to him to include the struggles faced by a new eatery.

"I wanted the cutting edge, toast of the town, top in the world restaurant, and then I wanted the restaurant that had the staying power, that was the life blood of the community. I also wanted the newcomer that was struggling," he said.

"Because it's a very real story of the restaurant industry that rarely gets told."

"Spinning Plates" has won a slew of awards on the film festival circuit and has been a "dream scenario" for Levy.

However, even though food is clearly his passion (the director has riffed on his favourite restaurants and boasted about his chocolate chip cookie recipe while promoting the film), he has also vowed that "Spinning Plates" would be his last word on the subject.

That said, it seems Levy may have had a change of heart.

"I feel like I've said what I wanted to say in food, but at the same time there's a story that I've been working on for three years — not a documentary (but) a fiction film ... that happens to be in the world of food, a very different angle though, I say in my coy way so I don't give anything away," said the filmmaker.

"It's looking from the outside in, rather than what I've been doing."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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