Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Anyone Can Cook (or even write!)

Spoiler Alert!

Those who read this blog already know that I'm a wine lover, and that I have my own backyard vineyard here in Sonoma County.  It should come as no great surprise that I'm a fan of the movie Ratatouille, which revolves around the story of a young chef who inherits a french bistro - and the rat who teaches him to cook. I love this movie. I'll admit up front that no film is perfect and I can find as many flaws in this one as reasons to love it... but ultimately, I still love it.

Yes, part of it is the fact that I'm a wine and food lover. Part of it is the fact that I spent nearly ten years as a professional cook. Part of it is the -as always- breathtaking animation by Pixar. That still doesn't account for the fact that this movie has a certain "X-factor" which makes it one of my favorites. In a recent viewing, I've realized yet another reason to love this great film. That is in the humbling speech of the of famous restaurant critic Anton Ego who seeks to destroy the hero, but ultimately comes to the realization that who or what the hero is doesn't matter, even if the hero is a rat. What matters is that the hero can cook:

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read, but the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations; the new needs friends.

"Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking, is a gross understatement: They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more." -Anton Ego

In the USA we have a long tradition of rooting for the underdog. It's hard not to love Linguine, who hasn't the slightest idea how to cook, and yet suddenly finds himself not only a chef but the owner of his own restaurant. Even when Linguini is a screw-up, we still root for him. But in the end, when the famous critic eats his own words and swallows his pride, we find something that any Indie writer or publisher can appreciate. This is the humility of Ego, who realizes that in the long term, even those subjects he eviscerated in print may outlast his criticisms. Ego is the jaded professional who suddenly remembers what he loves about the subject matter, and realizes that what he's been doing has not been out of love, but narcissism. In doing so, Ego takes a risk himself by promoting the new and different. In this clever turn, the antagonist himself becomes a hero.

It is an unusually profound moment for a G-rated Disney film. The vulnerable and exposed artist in this case is a rat-chef, something nearly as distasteful as an Indie writer, or at least I'm sure it is so in some circles. And the unexpected hero is the venomous critic who sets out to ruin and expose him, but is ultimately converted by the passion and talent of the artist. We should all be so lucky.

1 comment:

  1. I loved that movie! As well as the sentiment in your last paragraph. It's almost eerie, tonight I've been privately musing about how intolerant writers can be of other writers who stretch their wings and do something outside the norm, something like self-publishing. It's sad. I would have thought creators of worlds, spinners of fantastic tales, would be more tolerant toward the unconventional.