Review: ‘The Truffle Hunters,’ starring Aurelio Conterno, Angelo Gagliardi, Carlo Gonella, Sergio Cauda and Gianfranco Curti

March 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Sergio Cauda and his dog Fiona (pictured at left) in “The Truffle Hunters” (Photo by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw/Sony Pictures Classics)

“The Truffle Hunters”

Directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw

Italian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in rural Piedmont, Italy, the documentary “The Truffle Hunters” features an all-white group of people, from middle-aged to elderly, who are involved in the business of harvesting, selling and buying truffles.

Culture Clash: The truffle hunters, who are set in their traditional ways and live without modern technology, are part of a dwindling group of people whose livelihoods are threatened by climate change, pollution and construction that destroys forest trees.

Culture Audience: “The Truffle Hunters” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a rarely seen Italian community that knows where to harvest coveted delicacies such as white Alba truffles.

Gianfranco Curti in “The Truffle Hunters” (Photo by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw/Sony Pictures Classics)

The cinéma vérité-styled documentary “The Truffle Hunters” (which was filmed during a three-year period) is the type of movie that people will either find fascinating or dull. There’s no really no in-between, because viewers’ interest in watching this movie will largely depend on how much they want to peek into the secretive world of how the rare delicacy of white Alba truffles are found in Piedmont, Italy. It’s a very niche subject that isn’t supposed to be a blockbuster movie for generic audiences.

Directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, “The Truffle Hunters” takes place primarily in rural Piedmont, Italy, where several middle-aged and elderly men are continuing their traditions of truffle hunting in the forests. It’s a very competitive and mysterious tradition, where truffle hunters do not like to share information with anyone over where they find their truffles. The only real loyalty that they have in their truffle hunting is to their beloved dogs that they rely on to sniff out the truffles.

That doesn’t mean that friendships can’t be formed among the truffle hunters. It just means that even among close friends, it would be bad for an individual’s business to reveal secret truffle locations or ways that they find these locations. When they get together to talk business, they often lie about what they found so that they can mislead their competitors.

As a result of this cutthroat mentality, the dark side of truffle hunting is mentioned several times in the documentary: The hunting dogs are often at risk of ingesting poison that competing hunters put in the woods. No one is seen in the documentary actually planting the poison. But as soon it’s mentioned that truffle hunter dogs get poisoned, you just know that it’s probably going to happen to someone’s dog in this movie.

Because of all the deceit and dog murders involved in truffle hunting, truffle hunters can be very solitary and paranoid when they do their work. When they do gather in duos or groups, it’s usually so they can try to get information that will be in their own best interests. But they can’t really completely trust each other because of all the risks of sharing valuable information with rivals, many of whom don’t hesitate to murder dogs for the sake of trying to get ahead of the competition. Muzzles are placed on the truffle hunting dogs to try to protect them from poison, but these muzzles aren’t always effective in preventing a dog from ingesting something deadly.

In some of the scenes in “The Truffle Hunters,” cameras were placed on the dogs, so that there’s literally a dog’s eye-view during the truffle hunt. As expected, these are the part of the movie where there’s a lot of shaky cam footage. It’s an eye-catching technique that gives more of an adrenaline-pumping perspective of what it’s like to be on the hunt for truffles, since the dogs often run during the hunt, while their elderly human masters do not.

As shown in the documentary, the truffle hunters who are staunchly traditionalist refuse to go “high-tech.” The truffle hunters featured in the movie live in homes without computers, Internet access, cell phones or even televisions. And it should come as no surprise that truffle hunting in this part of Italy is not a job that is very welcoming to women. You get the feeling that the men involved in truffle hunting think of it as an exclusive fraternity, and they want to keep it that way.

The documentary is often very slow-paced, but it allows the viewers to have a sense of how lifestyles in this isolated rural area are stuck almost in a time warp, and people are reluctant to change. Truffle hunting is also a job that is having difficulty attracting young people, who are inclined to want jobs that pay more money or are located in more populated areas. None of the truffle hunters featured in the documentary has anyone in younger generations of their families who are willing to continue these traditions of finding truffles.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a demand for white Alba truffles. In fact, demand has risen, as these types of truffles have become increasingly harder to find. That’s partly because of the changing landscape/terrain affected by climate change, pollution and urban development that cuts down forest trees for wood or to make way for buildings. And it’s partly because there are less truffle hunters available to find and harvest truffles.

“The Truffle Hunters” might frustrate viewers who prefer documentaries that identify people by showing their names on screen when the people are speaking or first appear on screen. There are no “talking head” interviews, so viewers will find out an individual’s name if someone else says that person’s name in the movie. The people who are featured the most in the movie are:

  • Sergio Cauda, who was 68, when this movie was filmed, is the most adventurous and social one in the group. He hunts every day with his dogs Fiona and Pepe.
  • Aurelio Conterno, who was 84 when this movie was filmed, is a never-married bachelor with no children and has no humans living with him. He treats his female dog Birba like a kid who is his best friend.
  • Gianfranco Curti is an ambitious, middle-aged truffle dealer who buys from the truffle hunters and and sells to local and international merchants and restaurants.
  • Angelo Gagliardi, who was 78 at the time this movie is filmed, is an eccentric poet/farmer who wants to get out of the truffle hunting business because he thinks it’s become too corrupt. Just like Conterno, he’s the only human in his household and treats his dog (Nina) as his most trusted companion.
  • Egidio Gagliardi, who was 83 when this movie was filmed, is Angelo’s cousin and a truffle hunter/salesman who works with scientists to find the right trees and conditions to cultivate and harvest truffles.
  • Carlo Gonella, who was 88 at the time that this movie was filmed, sneaks out at night to find truffles, much to the disapproval of his wife Maria Cicciù, who fears for his safety when he’s truffle hunting.
  • Paolo Stacchini, who was 78 at the time that this movie was filmed, is a truffle authenticator/judge whose job is to determine the quality and value of individual truffles.

A great deal of the documentary shows what happens in the transaction phase of the truffle business. Truffle dealer Curti has taken over the family business from his father, but Curti is shown to be someone who is not as well-respected by the local truffle hunters as his father was. The hunters feel that Curti’s father was more polite and more understanding in dealing with the truffle hunters.

If there’s a “villain” in the movie, it would be Curti, who tries to lowball the hunters on purchase offers. At one point in a sale negotiation, he offers €150 for 100 grams of truffles. He’s a tough negotiator who puts up a lot of resistance to buy at a suggested higher price. In another scene, he has an argument with an elderly man named Franco, who accuses Curti of coming into his territory and buying truffles from his hunters.

And it’s shown later in the movie that Curti only sees truffles as a way to make as much money as possible, not as a food delicacy that he personally enjoys. In one scene, he has dinner with his daughter (who’s about 7 or 8 years old) and smugly says that it’s ironic that he sells so many truffles because he and his family don’t even eat truffles.

Because the dogs are so important to truffle hunting, they are exalted more than a typical household pet. Cauda takes a bath with his dog Fiona in his bathtub. Conterno thinks Birba is the best truffle-hunting dog in the area, and he cooks special meals for her and has conversations with her as if she were human. Gonella gets his favorite dog Tritina blessed by a local priest during a church service.

Conterno and his dog Birba are probably the ones who are considered the most successful truffle hunters in this group. And they appear to be sought-after by people who know the reputation of this dynamic truffle-hunting duo. In one scene, an unidentified man in his 30s has a meal at restaurant with Conterno and tries to entice the truffle hunter into sharing some the tricks of his trade.

The younger man says to Conterno: “You’re 84 years old. You have no wife, no children. You’re the best truffle hunter. Can you show me your secret spots? Or can I go truffle hunting with you?’

Conterno replies, “Never! Never! We can go truffle hunting, but in your place or in a place where neither of us knows. We can go to a new place.”

“The Truffle Hunters” also shows some of the disillusionment and strained relationships that can happen with people involved in truffle hunting. According to the “Truffle Hunters” production notes, cousins Angelo Gagliardi and Egidio Gagliardi didn’t speak to each other for 10 years, even though they lived only two miles from each other. Curti’s often-abrasive manner has caused tension because he’s aggressively positioned himself as the truffle dealer who wields the most clout with these truffle hunters.

Farmer spouses Gonella and Cicciù seem to have an overall happy marriage, but nevertheless bicker about his truffle hunting. She often gets exasperated and worried when he sneaks off to truffle hunt and she can’t find him. She doesn’t think it’s safe for him to truffle hunt in his advanced age. The spouses do have some harmonious moments together, such as a scene where he helps her sort and clean tomatoes in their kitchen.

And the dog poisonings have caused a certain distrust in the truffle-hunting community, because fellow truffle hunters who can be outwardly pleasant to each other can also secretly plot to murder each other’s dogs. The situation is compounded because it’s hard to prove who’s been poisoning the dogs. Even if there were eyewitnesses, you get the feeling that the people in this community wouldn’t snitch or go to the trouble of having anyone arrested for this crime.

Angelo Gagliardi also expresses why he wants to quit truffle hunting, by saying that “there are too many greedy people. They don’t do it for fun or to play with their dogs or to spend some time in nature. They only want money … People use poisons to kill the dogs.”

The die-hard truffle hunters who want to continue truffle hunting until they’re dead or physically unable to walk in the woods are clearly doing it as a passion, first and foremost. They don’t see it as a hobby or fleeting interest but as a way of life. They’re also truffle hunting because they like the competition aspect of this type of work. Truffle hunting is embedded in their identity, and they all naturally want to be considered “the best.”

Greed and egos certainly factor into truffle hunting. However, the documentary shows that these hunters are not the ones making the most money from truffle sales. The hunters seem to be happy with making enough money to live comfortably, because they’re definitely not getting rich from truffle hunting.

A certain part of the documentary also shows the process of preparing white Alba truffles at an auction house. They’re treated almost like rare jewels, with inspectors, deluxe displays and media photographers taking pictures. During an auction shown in the documentary, one truffle sold for $110,000.

The pomp and circumstance of truffle auctions are quite the contrast from the modest and simple lives led by the truffle hunters who go in the woods to find these treasured items. And that seems to be the whole point of this documentary: The people who harvest luxurious white Alba truffles probably have fascinating stories to tell and take pride in a custom that’s so rich in tradition that you can’t put a price tag on it.

Sony Pictures Classics released “The Truffle Hunters” in select U.S. cinemas on March 5, 2021.

Food Network debuts ‘Chopped: Martha Rules,’ starring Martha Stewart, Ted Allen, Marcus Samuelsson and Marc Murphy

March 15, 2021

Marc Murphy, Martha Stewart, Marcus Samuelsson and Ted Allen of “Martha Rules” (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

The following is a press release from Food Network:

Lifestyle expert, acclaimed cookbook author and Emmy® Award-winning television personality Martha Stewart is taking over the Chopped kitchen in the new, five-episode stunt Chopped: Martha Rules, premiering Tuesday, April 13th at 9pm ET/PT on Food Network. Set in an outdoor kitchen in Kennebunkport, Maine, Martha calls the shots and changes all the rules, any way she wants, as sixteen fearless chefs must compete and learn to pivot to stay in the running for the $50,000 grand prize. Hosted by Ted Allen, each hour-long episode features four chefs working with a mystery basket of ingredients through three rounds – appetizer, entrée, and dessert – as they are challenged to create unique and delicious meals in a limited amount of time. But Martha has big surprises in store, turning Chopped upside down with curveballs thrown at the competitors every step of the way, including Martha taking control of the clock knocking the chefs off their game and adding a surprise fifth chef to battle against the competitors that make it to the dessert round. Joining Martha at the judges table are Marc Murphy and Marcus Samuelsson, who determine the winners from the preliminary heats that will meet in the finale for a chance to take home the pay day. Which champion can keep their head in the game, no matter what obstacles Martha throws in their path, and who will be chopped?     

“Martha Stewart is the definitive authority for all things lifestyle, and there is no one better at making all the rules,” said Courtney White, President, Food Network. “Set in one of Martha’s favorite locations, beautifully rustic and scenic Kennebunkport, the challenges presented to the chefs have Martha’s signature style written all over them.”

The first group of competitors set out to make a stellar first impression, but Martha has a twist for them concerning the pantry, as the chefs will only have access to 10 essential pantry staples. Maine-inspired basket ingredients like blueberry pie and clam chowder set the scene for a sensational coastal feast. In another episode the chefs learn that Martha plans to have them switch cooking stations – and dishes – at any time. Extreme creativity and serious agility must be on display as the chefs need to stay focused and confident under the most peculiar and demanding of circumstances. And in the finale, Martha plans to pull out all the stops to make the road to $50,000 as rife with challenges as possible. In the appetizer round the chefs wonder what’s going on, when instead of a fourth ingredient, they spot some footwear in the basket. The entrée round sees the last three chefs working with a bountiful collection of New England-inspired gastronomic goodness, and an extra mandatory task in the dessert round promises to be both time-consuming and educational.

Fans can meet the chefs and learn more about Martha and her pantry essentials on FoodNetwork.com/Chopped. Follow along with the competition on social media using #Chopped.

Chopped: Martha Rules is produced by Notional Entertainment.

Food Network debuts ‘Chef Boot Camp,’ starring Cliff Crooks

March 5, 2021

Cliff Crooks of “Chef Boot Camp” (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

The following is a press release from Food Network:

Food Network’s newest series, Chef Boot Camp, takes a deep dive into one of the most critical and essential elements of restaurants everywhere – the chefs running the kitchen. The success of a restaurant starts and ends with the food they serve and trouble in the kitchen can jeopardize everything. Enter Cliff Crooks, Culinary Director of a global restaurant brand whose job entails making sure the entire enterprise runs smoothly, including hiring and firing the chefs for each kitchen. Now Cliff is taking his decades of expertise and embarking on a new mission to help struggling chefs from restaurants across the country prove that they deserve to keep running their kitchens. Nominated by their respective restaurant owners, each episode Cliff will put a trio of underperforming chefs through a grueling series of challenges to test their real-world culinary skills and fitness for the role. With their jobs on the line, these chefs will attempt to not only survive but thrive in Chef Boot Camp and prove to their owners they have the talent and passion it takes to succeed. Chef Boot Camp premieres Thursday, April 8, 2021 at 10pm ET/PT on Food Network. “Cliff Crooks knows what it takes for a restaurant to be successful and in Chef Boot Camp, he brings his tremendous experience and a commitment to excellence to struggling restaurateurs and their kitchen staffs,” said Courtney White, Food Network President.

“Cliff’s investment in these chefs is evident every step of the way as he gives everything he can to help them improve and succeed.”

 In each episode, three struggling chefs embark on a three-day boot camp with Cliff who will assess their skills in the kitchen and address their areas for improvement. After an introduction to each chef that reveals what brought them to boot camp, he gets a firsthand look and taste of one of their signature dishes to begin to understand what the issues may be. Next, the chefs must demonstrate fundamental cooking techniques of a classic dish which they must create on time and to Cliff’s satisfaction, showing their skills, knowledge, and ability in the kitchen. Then, the chefs must bring it altogether – working a fast-paced, live dinner service at one of Cliff’s restaurants, and then, finally, whipping up a creative, new dish for their restaurant owners to demonstrate their growth and progress from boot camp. Some will rise to the challenge while others will not, with the fate of their career in the hands of chef Cliff. Chef Cliff Crooks has been cooking in prominent kitchens throughout New York City for more than 20 years. Prior to joining BLT Restaurant Group in 2010 as Executive Chef of BLT Steak New York, he held positions at Salute!, Blue Water Grill and Gramercy Tavern.

Chef Cliff has appeared as a contestant on Top Chef and a judge on Hell’s Kitchen and Chopped Junior, and will also be seen on Food Network’s Tournament of Champions. After more than two years of leading the kitchen at BLT Steak New York, the hospitality group’s flagship restaurant, Crooks was named Culinary Director of BLT Restaurant Group and has since played an integral role in inspiring culinary growth among his staff while demonstrating a strong commitment to the brand’s ethos of exceeding expectations through outstanding food and hospitality. 

Fans can get to know Cliff and learn some of his best cooking tips at FoodNetwork.com/ChefBootCamp. Follow along with the competition on social media using #ChefBootCamp and tell us about your biggest cooking mistakes. Chef Boot Camp is produced by Left/Right Productions for Food Network.

·       Premiering Thursday, April 8, 2021 at 10pm– “Have a Little Faith”

Chef Cliff Crooks works with three chefs in need of professional help, starting at Tara Inn in Port Jefferson, N.Y. Head chef Andrew’s poor performance could mean the end of a local favorite restaurant since 1977. In New Haven, Conn., the chef refuses to change the menu at his best friend’s restaurant, putting his relationship and his job at risk. Finally, Chef Cliff meets Shakilah, who took over for her mom as head chef at Carolyn’s Southern Comfort Cuisine in East Meadow, N.Y., but overspicing the food and her lack of drive could mean the end of her mother’s dream.

·       Premiering Thursday, April 15, 2021 at 10pm– “Sloppy, Snarky and Silent”

Chef Cliff Crooks works with three chefs with very different issues. Aiden has been the head chef of Blue Mermaid Island Grill in Kittery, Maine, for years, but he’s timid, and the restaurant’s owner questions whether he can lead a kitchen. Pat was recently promoted to head chef of Beefeater’s Tavern in Horseheads, N.Y., but his sloppy appearance and subpar culinary skills threaten his success. Finally, Shy has spent 16 years running the kitchen at McGeary’s Pub in Albany, N.Y., but she has an attitude problem that could mean the end of her run.

·       Premiering Thursday, April 22, 2021 at 10pm– “Three Dreams”

Chef Cliff Crooks connects with three chefs in need of help, starting with Carlos in New London, Conn. He came to the U.S. from Ecuador and achieved the American dream while working in kitchens, but as the head chef at Hot Rods Cafe, he must learn some tricks beyond cooking wings and burgers to help his best friend and the restaurant’s owner bring in new customers to pay for a costly renovation. In Essex Junction, Vt., cooking saved the life of former addict Cody, but he needs help getting past his self-doubt to successfully run the kitchen at El Gato Cantina. Finally, Chef Cliff meets Kelly, a self-taught chef who transformed her health-food meal prep business into Fit Foodie Express in Long Beach, N.Y. She and her husband put their savings into the business, but her lack of cooking and restaurant experience could mean the end of not only their business but also their marriage.

·       Premiering Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 10pm– “I Will Be Great… Tomorrow”

Chef Cliff Crooks draws on his expertise to help three chefs in need, beginning with Chris at The Striker in Portsmouth, N.H. Chris was hired for his creativity, but he’s lost his passion and his food is uninspired. In Albany, N.Y., Kizzy is chef and co-owner of Allie B’s Cozy Kitchen, which features her mom’s soul food recipes, but she needs to branch out to reinvigorate business. Finally, Chef Cliff meets Nicky, who has been the chef at Bella Napoli in Bloomfield, N.J., for more than 40 years — and it shows in his terrible plating and the owners’ desire for new dishes to bring in more customers.

Online, fans can get to know Cliff and learn some of his best cooking tips. Follow along with the competition on social media using #ChefBootCamp and tell us about your biggest cooking mistakes. 

Discovery+ announces cooking TV series ‘Mary McCartney Serves It Up’

January 4, 2021

Mary McCartney

The following is a press release from Discovery+

British photographer and cookbook author Mary McCartney invites audiences into her London kitchen on Thursday, February 4, 2021, on Discovery+ as she prepares delicious, accessible, and picture perfect meals with her celebrity friends on the new discovery+ series “Mary McCartney Serves It Up.” In each of the six half-hour episodes, Mary shares her sincere love of cooking and her family’s favorite recipes and the stories behind them, showcasing her accessible vegetarian food philosophy for all to enjoy. In each episode, Mary will be joined by her famous friends, at home and over video conference, to celebrate food and friendship with transatlantic cook-alongs, taste-tests, cocktail classes and fun food Q&As. From easy dinners to comforting eats, moreish modern meals, and scrumptious desserts, Mary serves up incredible eats proving every day and special occasions can be vege-licious.

“I’m honored to be launching my new show on Discovery’s amazing new streaming service. With the help of a few friends, I want to show that meat free eating can be varied, delicious and accessible to everyone,” said Mary McCartney. “The recipes are simple, easy and rewarding. I can’t wait for you to be able to join me and my super talented guests for food and fun.”

It’s good food and great company on every episode, from Maple Vodka Grilled Peaches with Kate Hudson, Meatless Marinara Sub Sandwiches with Mark Ronson, and Deluxe Hash Brown Skillet piled high with spicy beans and delicious fixings for brunch with Cameron Diaz and Nicole Richie. But no brunch is complete without a cocktail, so the ladies show Mary their special take on a spritzer. Plus, Liv Tyler is Mary’s official nachos taste tester, and Dave Grohl teaches Mary the secret to his legendary lasagna, while she makes Smokey Dogs and a chef’s salad with homemade dressing to round out the meal. Mary also arranges a food delivery for a virtual party with Gayle King, who famously doesn’t cook, filled with Sticky Crispy Cauliflower Bites, Pea & Mint Dip, and Roasted Tomato & Butterbean Toasts. Together they mix up a delicious mocktail, to toast to their friendship and to sharing a delicious meal.

“Mary McCartney serves up a passion for cooking, a unique culinary perspective showcased with every mouthwatering meal, and a love for connecting with friends over good food which is at the core of every episode,” said Courtney White, President, Food Network.

Mary McCartney is a British photographer, filmmaker and cookbook author and advocate of vegetarianism as part of sustainable plant-based living. Her cookbooks include “Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking,” in which she offers easy, family-friendly meat-free dishes that will appeal to everyone, as well as “At My Table: Vegetarian Feasts for Family and Friends,” offering more than 75 recipes, with recollections of specific celebrations, gatherings, and family highlights through the years. She is also a co-founder of Meat Free Monday, a not-for-profit organization that campaigns for sustainable, meat-free living.

“Mary McCartney brings her passion for food to Discovery+ at the perfect time to offer our global audience ideas for cooking delicious meals for their families,” said Lisa Holme, Group SVP Content and Commercial Strategy Discovery+.

Follow #MaryMcCartneyServesItUp for even more of Mary’s tried-and-true recipes that are perfect for special occasions and everyday dinners alike, as well as behind-the-scenes videos of Mary and her celebrity guests. Fans can visit www.discoveryplus.com, and follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more.

Discovery+ is the definitive non-fiction, real life subscription streaming service. The new service will launch with a landmark partnership with Verizon that gives their customers with select plans 12 months of Discovery+ on Verizon. At launch in the U.S., Discovery+ will have the largest-ever content offering of any new streaming service, featuring a wide range of exclusive, original series across popular, passion verticals in which Discovery brands have a leadership position, including lifestyle and relationships; home and food; true crime; paranormal; adventure and natural history; as well as science, tech and the environment, and a slate of high-quality documentaries. Discovery+ will offer more than 55,000 episodes all in one place, with over 2,500 current and classic shows from Discovery’s iconic portfolio of networks, including HGTV, Food Network, TLC, ID, OWN, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. For more about Discovery+, click here.

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About Discovery:

Discovery, Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) is a global leader in real life entertainment, serving a passionate audience of superfans around the world with content that inspires, informs and entertains. Discovery delivers over 8,000 hours of original programming each year and has category leadership across deeply loved content genres around the world. Available in 220 countries and territories and nearly 50 languages, Discovery is a platform innovator, reaching viewers on all screens, including TV Everywhere products such as the GO portfolio of apps; direct-to-consumer streaming services such as discovery+, Food Network Kitchen and MotorTrend OnDemand; digital-first and social content from Group Nine Media; a landmark natural history and factual content partnership with the BBC; and a strategic alliance with PGA TOUR to create the international home of golf. Discovery’s portfolio of premium brands includes Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, MotorTrend, Animal Planet, Science Channel, and the forthcoming multi-platform JV with Chip and Joanna Gaines, Magnolia Network, as well as OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network in the U.S., Discovery Kids in Latin America, and Eurosport, the leading provider of locally relevant, premium sports and Home of the Olympic Games across Europe. For more information, please visit corporate.discovery.com and follow @DiscoveryIncTV across social platforms.

Food Network announces ‘Buddy vs. Christmas’

October 27, 2020

Buddy Valastro in “Buddy vs Christmas” (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

The following is a press release from Food Network:

Buddy Valastro embarks on an extraordinary new Christmas-themed competition on Food Network as he goes head-to-head with the greatest non-cake artists on Buddy vs. Christmas, premiering on Sunday, November 22 at 10pm ET/PT. It’s bakers vs. makers as their skills are tested in each of the four episodes, as Buddy and his team of bakers goes up against an award-winning scenic designer, a glassblower, an animatronics expert, and a Lego builder. With only 24 hours to capture the spirit of the holidays with their creations, the one that rises to the top with their elaborate design will be crowned winner. From life-size gingerbread houses and snow globes, to incredible toys including drivable sleigh cakes and action figures, and to Santa’s workshop complete with talking reindeer, each creation brings holiday enchantment to life!

“As the Cake Boss, Buddy has mastered the creation of gigantic, life-sized, and incredibly realistic cakes. Now, viewers will be captivated as he takes on his most difficult challenge yet by competing against master builders and expert crafters – it’s cake creations vs. real build designs on Buddy vs. Christmas,” said Courtney White, President, Food Network. “Audiences will be stunned by the remarkable Christmas designs in each episode, with all their spectacular details and special effects, making each one more impressive than the last.”

The cake designs on Buddy Vs. Christmas were some of the last cake’s Buddy constructed, as the series was filmed prior to a recent accident at his home, where his right hand was impaled, and he was rushed into emergency surgery. TLC’s two-hour special following Buddy’s road to recovery premiering on Wednesday, December 23 at 9pm ET/PT, follows the dramatic events as they transpired in real time with footage captured immediately after the incident. It’s a long, emotional journey, from Buddy’s multiple surgeries, to his family anxiously waiting at the hospital, to grueling physical therapy, and to his first days back at the job. As business deadlines loom, commitments for over-the-top cakes stack up, and the holiday season around the corner, the stakes couldn’t be higher. But above all, Buddy faces the ultimate question: Can you still be the Cake Boss if you can’t make cakes?

“Buddy is like family to all of us at TLC, so we are thrilled and relieved for him that he is on the road to recovery following his accident,” said Howard Lee, President and General Manager, TLC. “Knowing Buddy’s determination and spirit, it’s no surprise that he would give it his all in the hopes of returning back to normal. We are proud to document his journey as part of this special.”

For more on Buddy vs. Christmas fans can head to FoodNetwork.com/BuddyvsChristmas each week to watch behind-the-scenes games with Buddy and to get seasonal recipe inspiration just in time for the holidays. Plus, follow #BuddyvsChristmas for tips from Buddy on how to rescue your baking fails and learn his top tips for sweet success. And for more on the TLC special visit TLC on FacebookInstagramTwitterTikTok, and YouTube.

Both programs were produced by Cakehouse Media.

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ABOUT FOOD NETWORK

Food Network (www.foodnetwork.com) is a unique lifestyle network, website and magazine that connects viewers to the power and joy of food. The network strives to be viewers’ best friend in food and is committed to leading by teaching, inspiring, empowering and entertaining through its talent and expertise. Food Network is distributed to nearly 100 million U.S. households and draws over 46 million unique web users monthly. Since launching in 2009, Food Network Magazine’s rate base has grown 13 times and is the No. 2 best-selling monthly magazine on the newsstand, with 13.5 million readers. Food Network is owned by Discovery, Inc., a global leader in real life entertainment spanning 220 countries and territories; the portfolio also includes Discovery Channel, HGTV, TLC, Investigation Discovery, and OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

ABOUT TLC

Offering remarkable real-life stories without judgment, TLC shares everyday heart, humor, hope, and human connection with programming genres that include fascinating families, heartwarming transformations and life’s milestone moments. TLC is the #1 primetime ad-supported cable network across key female demos.

TLC is a global brand available in more than 84 million homes in the US and 270 million households around the world. Viewers can enjoy their favorite shows anytime, anywhere through TLC GO – the network’s TVE offering featuring live and on demand access to complete seasons. A destination online, TLC.com offers in-depth fan sites and exclusive original video content. Fans can also interact with TLC on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest. TLC is part of Discovery (NASDAQ: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), reaching 3 billion cumulative viewers in more than 220 countries and territories to satisfy curiosity and captivate superfans with a portfolio of premium nonfiction, lifestyle, sports and kids content brands.

Hulu announces premiere of ‘Eater’s Guide to the World,’ narrated by Maya Rudolph

October 20, 2020

Hulu has released the trailer and photos from the documentary series “Eater’s Guide to the World.” All seven episodes of the first season will premiere on November 11, 2020.

Here is Hulu’s synopsis of the show:

Discover the most surprising culinary destinations in “Eater’s Guide to the World.” Join narrator Maya Rudolph on a quest to find the most unexpected places to score an epic meal, while drinking and dining with the locals along the way.

Season 1, Episode 101: “Dining Alone in the Pacific Northwest

The best part of dining solo? You can focus on what deserves your attention most — the food. Time to eat your way through the Pacific Northwest, savoring the juicy pork steak, soba noodles, and piping hot fried chicken.

Season 1, Episode 102: “Cultural Crossroads in Casablanca”

No cool friend would let you skip Casablanca while on a trip to Morocco. This can’t-miss port city boasts snails, traditional pastilla, and unreal tagine — you’ve gotta taste it all.

Season 1, Episode 103: “The Ass Crack of Dawn in New York City”

It’s last call and you’re freakin’ hungry. What the f*** do you do? Luckily, you’re in New York City, where your crew can choose from mouth-watering options like Korean BBQ, empanadas, and birria — all before the sun hits the horizon.

Season 1, Episode 104: “Jungle to Table in Costa Rica”

The Costa Rican jungle is basically nature’s candy store, and we’d like to invite you in. Bursting with delicious guanabana, cainito, cas, pejibaye, and of course cacao — known to some as the fruit of the gods! Of the GODS, y’all!

Season 1, Episode 105: “Eating on the Hood of Your Car in LA”

Buckle tf up! When you’re in LA, your car’s your sanctuary. Treat it with the respect it deserves, and dig in to life-changing hot chicken, fresh bread drops, and museum-worthy bento boxes in its presence.

Season 1, Episode 106: “Planting Roots in Tijuana Mexico”

Local, regular, newcomer — whoever you are, Tijuana has something delicious for you to eat. Grab a seat and try the craft beer, pork belly tacos, Caesar salad (trust us) and yeah, you’ll want to stay awhile.

Season 1, Episode 107: “Taking Off in America”

You eat at an airport because you have to, not because you want to. But just beyond the departure terminals you’ll find smoky BBQ, sweet n’ fluffy pancakes and a bowl of warm borbor—all worth going the extra mile.

Food Network announces details of ‘Candy Land,’ hosted by Kristin Chenoweth

October 13, 2020

Kristin Chenoweth (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

The following is a press release from Food Network:

Food Network brings out the childhood imagination of five teams made up of professionacake and sugar artists on the new primetime competition series Candy Land, inspired by the classic Hasbro children’s game. Through six episodes, Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth hosts and guides the teams through the fantastical world of Candy Land, challenging them to create heavenly confectionary showpieces, all the while being thrown curveballs every step of the way by Lord Licorice that puts the teams’ skills to the ultimate test. Premiering Sunday, November 15 at 9pm ET/PT, each episode features the teams stepping into one of the eye-popping lands come to life, including giant candy canes in the Peppermint Forest, life-size gumdrops at the Gumdrop Mountains, a real life gingerbread house at Chocolate Mountain, enormous and luscious lollipops in the Lollipop Woods, and lemons growing right off the vines in the Lemon Lime Springs. The players must forage for flavors and unique ingredients within each land to use for their sugar masterpieces before presenting to judges Nacho Aguirre and Aarti Sequeira, who determine which teams advance down the board game path based on creativity, technical execution, and how well the candies of the land were incorporated. The first team to make it to King Kandy’s Castle wins the game and earns the grand prize of $25,000. 

“For almost three-quarters of a century and with over 50 million games sold, Candy Land is one of the most beloved childhood memories for generations of families everywhere, and we are thrilled to be able to collaborate with Hasbro to bring viewers on this immersive journey with such an iconic property,” said Courtney White, President, Food Network. “And with Kristin Chenoweth’s charismatic presence, she is the perfect guide in capturing the imagination of audiences, making the world of Candy Land truly come alive.”

“Candy Land is what the world needs right now – oh, and also sugar,” said Chenoweth. 

Host Kristin Chenoweth welcomes the players to Candy Land before presenting the teams with their first challenge to create mystical and magical creatures the likes of which have never been seen before. Each team must present their work of art to judges Nacho Aguirre and Aarti Sequeira to see which team’s time in Candy Land has come to an end. Other episodes feature the teams designing inventive and edible means of transportation for the citizens of Candy Land, creating beautiful upgrades for the town squares within each land, and a final challenge with the last teams standing thinking outside the box to deliver a one-of-a-kind gift that will need to impress King Kandy.

Whether it is over a 100 pounds of chocolate used for Chocolate Mountain or 1,000 lollipops needed to create the Lollipop Woods, go behind the scenes to see how the breathtaking set of Candy Land comes to life in the special premiering Sunday, November 15 at 10:30pm ET/PT. Host David Bromstad (HGTV’s My Lottery Dream Home) treats viewers to an exclusive peek into the making of each land and the creative process of the minds that are undertaking this monumental challenge, along with learning the history of the iconic Hasbro game that continues to be a childhood favorite.

For more confectionary magic, don’t miss expert baker Dan Langan in the exclusive web series Inspired by Candy Land where Dan creates sensational sweets and cakes that draw inspiration from the classic children’s game. The companion series available on FoodNetwork.com premieres the week of November 9 with new episodes rolling out weekly.

For more information on Candy Land, viewers can go to FoodNetwork.com/CandyLand to access insider videos with Kristin and the judges, as well as exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from the set. Plus, join in on the conversation throughout the season using #CandyLand.

#  #  #

FOOD NETWORK (www.foodnetwork.com) is a unique lifestyle network, website and magazine that connects viewers to the power and joy of food. The network strives to be viewers’ best friend in food and is committed to leading by teaching, inspiring, empowering and entertaining through its talent and expertise. Food Network is distributed to nearly 100 million U.S. households and draws over 46 million unique web users monthly. Since launching in 2009, Food Network Magazine’s rate base has grown 13 times and is the No. 2 best-selling monthly magazine on the newsstand, with 13.5 million readers. Food Network is owned by Discovery, Inc., a global leader in real life entertainment spanning 220 countries and territories; the portfolio also includes Discovery Channel, HGTV, TLC, Investigation Discovery, and OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

Review: ‘Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles,’ starring Yotam Ottolenghi, Dominique Ansel, Ghaya Oliveira, Dinara Kasko, Sam Bompas, Harry Parr and Janice Wong

September 25, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sam Bompas, Dominique Ansel, Yotam Ottolenghi, Dinara Kasko and Harry Parr in “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles”

Directed by Laura Gabbert

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and briefly in London and Versailles, France, this documentary about celebrity chef/author Yotam Ottolenghi’s Metropolitan Museum of Art event to celebrate the cakes of Versailles features a cast of white and Asian people representing the upper-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The challenge for this event was to bring a modern twist to classic pastry dishes, and there were a few conflicts with the museum staff over what the chefs should and should not do.

Culture Audience: “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” will appeal primarily to high-end foodies and fans of these chefs. 

A cake display in “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

In June 2018, celebrity chef/author Yotam Ottolenghi (who owns and operates Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, a cooking hub/office in London) presented a celebration of the pastries of the legendry French court of Versailles in an event that took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (also known as the Met) in New York City. The exhibit event, titled “Feast of Versailles with Yotam Ottolenghi,” included the work of several notable chefs who were personally invited by Ottolenghi to participate. The straightforward documentary “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” (directed by Laura Gabbert) chronicles the behind-the-scenes story about this event.

The movie begins with Ottolenghi in London (where he lives) talking about why he decided to head up this event: “I was looking for the next challenge.” He says the Metropolitan Museum of Art approached him for the job. Ottolenghi remembers thinking, “Why am I getting an email from the Met? I don’t hang out with the Met [crowd].”

Ottolenghi continues, “When I saw that Versailles was the upcoming exhibit at the Met, I was intrigued. Food and art and history meet at one big event at the Met about cakes inspired by Versailles.” Considering that Ottolenghi has a background as a pastry chef, he had this thought of the event: “This is for me.”

Met Live Arts Department general manager Limor Tomer explains the idea behind the Met’s “Feast of Versailles” exhibit: “We think of performance and performance work very broadly, so the art of the kitchen fits very well into that. When we were thinking about Versailles, we were thinking about, ‘How do we give people an embodied way to understand what Versailles was and how it fit socially and culturally into people’s lives?'”

To prepare for this prestigious undertaking and to get a better understanding of the culture of Versailles, Ottolenghi visited Versailles, including the landmark Palace of Versailles. He also worked with a tutor on Versailles history: Bard Graduate Center assistant professor Deborah Krohn, who mentions in the documentary that Versailles was different from most other royal courts because there was no real privacy.

The general public could come and go in the Versailles court, which made the royals and upper-class society feel more accessible to lower-class people, but it also created more social envy, since poor people could see all the luxury that other people enjoyed in the court. Ottolenghi comments toward the end of the documentary that the court of Versailles and Instagram have parallels, since both are open to the public, but people use these forums as ways to boast, show off and create envy.

Ottolenghi opens up about his own background in the documentary. He grew up in Jerusalem, and his parents were academics who expected him to follow a similar career path. After a stint in the Israeli Defense Forces, he graduated from Tel Aviv University in 1997, with a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in comparative literature. He relocated to Amsterdam, where he edited the Hebrew section of NIW, a Dutch-Jewish weekly magazine.

Ottolenghi’s career path turned to cuisine when he moved to London to study French cooking at Le Cordon Bleu. He still has a passion for writing though, as evidenced by his cookbooks and his articles/essays in publications such as The Guardian and The New York Times. Ottolenghi, who is openly gay, lives with his husband Karl Allen and their two sons. Ottolenghi talks warmly about his family, but they are not featured in the documentary.

Ottolenghi’s international and well-traveled background has clearly given him an open-mindedness to other cultures. His business partner Sam Tamimi, who’s briefly interviewed in the documentary, mentions how they both were raised in Jerusalem, but in very different parts of the city: Ottolenghi grew up in Western Jerusalem (which is predominantly Jewish), while Tamimi grew up in Eastern Jerusalem, which is predominantly Muslim.

This openness to other cultures is why Ottolenghi consciously decided that he wanted to invite chefs from various countries to create pastry art for the Versailles exhibit. In the documentary, he says he started his search by following pastry chefs on Instagram. Ottolenghi says he was looking for “pastry chefs who take their art so seriously that the push the boundaries of technology, flavors, presentation. And it was really important to me that they actually be as dissimilar from each other as possible.”

The chosen pastry chefs were:

  • Dominique Ansel, originally from France and currently living in New York City, this James Beard Award-winning baker is best known for creating the Cronut®, Cookie Shot, DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann) and Frozen S’mores.
  • Sam Bompas and Harry Parr, originally from the United Kingdom, this London-based duo known as Bompas & Parr, are conceptual artists who infuse technology in their work and are known for creating extraordinary gelatin art.
  • Dinara Kasko, originally from the Ukraine, has a background in architecture and makes pastries using 3D-modeling technologies.
  • Ghaya Oliveira, originally from Tunisia and currently living in New York City, is a James Beard Award-winning executive pastry chef at Daniel (a famous French restaurant in New York City), and she is known for her reinvention of French-based plated desserts.
  • Janice Wong, originally from Singapore, has a specialty in interactive, edible art, especially with chocolate.

With this dream team assembled, the chefs meet with members of the Met museum staff to go over planning and logistics of what the chefs will create. The Met staffers who are featured in the documentary include art curator Danielle Kisluk-Grosheide, production coordinator Sruly Lazaros and executive pastry chef Randy Eastman.

Ansel, the most famous pastry chef in the group, was an obvious top choice for the exhibit. But beyond Ansel’s name recognition and talent, Ottolenghi explains why he thought Ansel would be a perfect fit for the project, “Everything he does is grounded in tradition but modern.” In the documentary, Wong says she was a less obvious choice and she was surprised to get the assignment, since she is known for her contemporary style. However, Wong says she was intrigued because she got to do pretty much anything she wanted for the exhibit.

The chosen chefs also open up about their backgrounds. While Ansel knew from an early age that he wanted to be a chef (he’s began training as a chef after he left high school), others took a different path to their culinary careers. Kasko has the aforementioned background in architecture. Oliveira used to be a ballerina and later worked for an investment company.

Wong had a background doing “math-oriented work,” but her life changed after she survived a serious car accident where she was hit by a drunk driver. “Everything changed,” Wong says, “Something happened between the left and ride side of my brain. I kind of switched.” And so, she became more of a creative person, which led to her profession as a chef.

The biggest challenge that the chefs face in the “Feast of Versailles” exhibit is creating their elaborate works of art in the limited time that they have. They only have about a week on site at the Met to create their displays. Oliveira says she was “very inspired by nature and the gardens of Versailles,” so she decides to make an ambitious display of cakes with a lot of floral motifs.

Bompas & Parr run into problems because they decided to have some running water through a funnel/water pump as part of their exhibit, only to find out from a nervous Tomer that the Met usually doesn’t allow running water in the gallery area where the exhibit will be taking place. There’s also some Bompas & Parr drama about some items that they needed to have shipped from England, and it’s questionable if these items will arrive on time.

The Met executive pastry chef Eastman creates some conflict when he tells Kasko to add more fat (cocoa butter) to her cake batter, but she disagrees because she thinks there’s already too much fat. Eastman is very condescending to Kasko, by telling her about all the experience he has, and she reluctantly follows his advice. It seems that she only did so out of respect because the Met was the hosting venue. But Kasko ended up being right about her recipe, and she had to redo the cake batter the way she originally planned. All that lost time caused her more stress.

Naturally, the climax of the documentary is the big event, which attracted the type of Met crowd that you would expect. (Admission to the event was at a minimum price of $125 per person.) “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” isn’t a groundbreaking culinary documentary, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable look into the process of how this “Feast of Versailles” event was produced, as well as an insightful peek into the personalities of the chefs who created the event’s masterful dessert art.

IFC Films released “Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 25, 2020.

HBO Max announces premiere date for Selena Gomez cooking series ‘Selena + Chef’

August 5, 2020

Selena Gomez in “Selena + Chef” (Photo courtesy of HBO Max)

The following is a press release from HBO Max:

HBO Max announced today that the Selena Gomez cooking show, SELENA + CHEF will premiere on the streamer Thursday, August 13th. The series is executive produced by Gomez for July Moon Productions, along with executive producers Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, and Leah Hariton on behalf of Industrial Media’s The Intellectual Property Corporation (IPC). The unscripted 10-episode cooking series features the multi-platinum selling recording artist, actress, producer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist as she navigates unfamiliar territory: making delicious meals while stuck at home in quarantine.

The world-renowned chefs featured during the season includes Angelo Sosa, Antonia Lofaso, Candice Kumai, Daniel Holzman, Jon & Vinny, Ludo Lefebvre, Nancy Silverton, Nyesha Arrington, Roy Choi, and Tonya Holland

“Having some of the best chefs open up their kitchens to me was a humbling and fun experience. I definitely discovered I have a lot more to learn. I’m also really happy that we were able to highlight and raise money for some incredible charitable organizations,” said Gomez.

“Watching Selena with these incredible chefs has been a delicious joy,” said Sarah Aubrey, Head of Original Content, HBO Max. “You don’t need to be an experienced chef yourself to enjoy the show; you learn with her and get to see all the fun that happens in the kitchen. Try not to watch it while hungry!”

Since social distancing at home, Selena has been spending more time in the kitchen than she ever imagined. But despite her many talents, it remains to be seen if cooking is one of them. In each episode of this unapologetically authentic cookalong, Selena, with the support of her Quaranteam, will be joined remotely by a different master chef. Together, they’ll tackle cuisines of every variety, share invaluable tips and tricks, and deal with everything from smoking ovens to missing ingredients. Each episode will highlight a food-related charity, and this casual, funny, and informative series will embrace both the struggle and the joy of learning to cook — while inviting audiences to follow along at home.

Selena Gomez began making the transition from young actress to adulthood with such films as Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers.” She appeared in the Academy Award nominated film “The Big Short” opposite Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling as well as “Fundamentals of Caring” alongside Paul Rudd.  Most recently, she starred in Jim Jarmusch’s film “The Dead Don’t Die” opposite Bill Murray and Adam Driver. Gomez has added executive producer to her list of credits serving as an executive producer of the hit Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why”   Most recently, she executive produced the critically acclaimed Netflix docu-series “Living Undocumented” which created much buzz and discussion regarding the polarizing issue of undocumented people living in the United States.  Selena also executive produced the upcoming feature film “The Broken Heart Gallery.”  Earlier this year, Gomez released her critically acclaimed album RARE which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 her third consecutive studio album to debut atop the chart.   The first single, “Lose You To Love Me,” gave Gomez her first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. As a solo artist Gomez has accumulated over 22 billion global streams.  Next up, Selena will launch her highly anticipated Rare Beauty cosmetics line exclusively at Sephora.  The mission behind the brand it to embrace one’s own uniqueness and build a community of support around a healthy self-image.

This project marks the second collaboration between IPC’s Holzman and Saidman and Gomez following the last year’s groundbreaking, six-part docuseries Living Undocumented, which the three executive produced and Saidman also co-directed. Holzman and Saidman also lead IPC’s parent company, Industrial Media, an independent production group with ownership interest in IPC, Sharp Entertainment, 19 Entertainment, and B17 Entertainment which is currently producing Craftopia hosted by YouTube star LaurDIY for HBO Max.

Gomez is represented by WME, Lighthouse Management + Media, Ziffren Brittenham LLP.


About HBO Max 

HBO Max is WarnerMedia’s direct-to-consumer offering, which debuted May 27, 2020. With 10,000 hours of curated premium content, HBO Max offers powerhouse programming for everyone in the home, bringing together HBO, a robust slate of new original series, key third-party licensed programs and movies, and fan favorites from WarnerMedia’s rich library including motion picture and TV series from Warner Bros., highlights from New Line, and catalog titles from DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Looney Tunes and more. Website: HBOMax.com

About WarnerMedia
WarnerMedia is a leading media and entertainment company that creates and distributes premium and popular content from a diverse array of talented storytellers and journalists to global audiences through its consumer brands including: HBO, HBO Now, HBO Max, Warner Bros., TNT, TBS, truTV, CNN, DC, New Line, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Turner Classic Movies and others. WarnerMedia is part of AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T).

About The Intellectual Property Corporation
Industrial Media’s The Intellectual Property Corporation (IPC) is an Emmy-winning IP creation and production studio based in Van Nuys, California. Founded in 2016, IPC develops and produces a wide range of television, film, documentary, and interactive mobile content. The company has series in production or development with a wide range of US broadcast, cable networks, and streamers. In 2017, the company was awarded an Emmy and in 2018 a Producers Guild Award for its series Leah Remini: Scientology & the Aftermath which was nominated for another Emmy in 2019. IPC was acquired by Industrial Media in 2018.

Review: ‘Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy,’ starring Diana Kennedy

June 19, 2020

by Carla Hay

Diana Kennedy in “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

“Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy”

Directed by Elizabeth Carroll

Culture Representation: Taking primarily place in Mexico and the United States, this documentary about celebrity chef/author Diana Kennedy (a white British woman whose specialty is Mexican cuisine) features interviews with white and Latino people representing the wealthy and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Kennedy became a leading expert in Mexican cuisine, but she’s always at some risk of being accused of cultural appropriation.

Culture Audience: “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” will appeal primarily to foodies and people who like biographies of celebrity chefs.

Diana Kennedy in “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

“Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” is a lot like the woman who is the subject of the documentary: matter-of-fact yet self-congratulatory and entrenched in tradition rather than experimentation. Born in 1923, British native Diana Kennedy (who participated in this film) is considered a leading expert in Mexican cuisine. This documentary that tells her life story follows the expected format of new interviews mixed with archival footage. If it weren’t for Kennedy’s sassy personality, the movie (which is the feature-film debut of director Elizabeth Carroll) would actually be pretty dull.

This is one of those laudatory celebrity documentaries where talking heads do nothing but praise the star of the movie. Celebrity chefs José Andrés, Rick Bayless, Gabriela Cámara, Pati Jinich, Alice Waters and Nick Zukin all gush about Kennedy in their separate soundbites featured the film. (Andrés and Zukin are two of the documentary’s executive producers.) The only real criticism of Kennedy actually comes from Kennedy herself, who describes herself as often being cranky, impatient and stubborn.

Cámara says about Kennedy: “I think she’s a legend. Many Mexicans are against admitting that she knows more than they do about their food.” Andrés comments, “You have to be Diana, to have the character she has, to achieve what she has achieved.”

Waters says of Kennedy’s influence on teaching Mexican cuisine: “She taught us the traditional ways and was not doing her own variation.” Bayless adds, “She’s the first person in the English-speaking world who first really mined the richness of regional Mexican cooking.”

Zukin gives this over-the-top compliment about Kennedy: “She’s a high prophet for Mexican food. Diana doesn’t care if people like her. She cares if Mexican food is evangelized … She’s going to tell you the truth.”

Jinich (the host of the PBS cooking show “Pati’s Mexican Table) has this to say: “I think Mexico as a country will be eternally indebted to her efforts.” Abigail Mendoza, a chef and native of Mexico who has been a close friend of Kennedy’s since the 1980s, “Thanks to Diana, Mexican cuisine is where it is … And she’s very Mexican in her soul and heart.”

You get the idea. Fortunately, the documentary keeps these effusive soundbites to a minimum. “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” (which is named after one of her cookbooks) is at its best when it just lets the camera roll to show Kennedy living her life. As she says in the film: “I’ve had a funny life. Let’s face it.”

Although Kennedy undoubtedly has immense talent to earn all of this praise and respect, her cookbook editor Frances McCollough asks a question that this documentary attempts to answer: “How can it be that a white British woman knows more about Mexican food than anyone else?”

It’s pretty clear from watching the film that Kennedy is certainly an expert in her field, but she also had the privilege and connections to be handed a massive platform through the media and book deals. Perhaps equally talented native Mexican chefs haven’t reached the same level of success because of racial barriers in the culinary industry. Kennedy tells her version of her life story, which is edited in between scenes of her in the present day.

Born as Diana Southwood in Loughton, England, she doesn’t really talk about her childhood in the film. Instead, the documentary skips right to her tales of joining the Women’s Timber Corps during World War II. While in the Women’s Timber Corps, she learned to plant trees and developed her lifelong passion for the environment.

After World War II, she was invited to go to Jamaica. Kennedy comments on her decision to live in the Caribbean: “I was propelled by a lot of hormones.” She says that while she was in Jamaica, she was nearly kidnapped.

And then she moved on to Haiti, where she had a fateful stay at Hotel Olafsson in 1957. She checked into the hotel on the same day as a handsome stranger named Paul P. Kennedy, an older man who was a correspondent for The New York Times in Mexico. Diana moved to Mexico to be with Paul, and she says she fell in love with him just as she fell in love with Mexico. She says in the documentary that Paul will always be the love of her life.

She eventually married Paul, whom she describes as someone who was the life of the party and a person who had a warm and humorous personality that naturally drew other people to him. In her early years of living in Mexico, Diana  developed a habit that she has continued throughout her life: She would go to village marketplaces to sample the local cuisine, find out how it was made, and ask the local merchants what kinds of food that they and their families were eating.

Diana says that most chefs who study other cultures’ cuisines don’t take the time to interview local people to find out what their families are eating. She gives herself a lot of praise in the film for taking that extra step, and she says that’s probably why she has more credibility in Mexican cuisine than other chefs of Mexican cuisine who aren’t natives of Mexico.

In her early years of living in Mexico, Diana says she didn’t have a car, so she would take a “third-class bus” (the type that lets chickens and other animals on board) to make these excursions to various marketplaces. She definitely has a car now. Some of the funniest scenes in the documentary are of Diana nimbly driving her Nissan SUV and showing mild signs of road rage, as she impatiently curses other drivers underneath her breath. Diana has a real fondness for the car, which she says has taken her through every imaginable terrain and weather.

Diana and Paul had a happy life in Mexico, and she says she was lucky that he accepted her for being “crazy.” She worked at the British Council, while he continued to work for The New York Times. Diana says, “I certainly wasn’t the traditional housewife. I never wanted children.” (Paul already had two daughters from a previous marriage. Diana’s stepdaughters are not seen or mentioned in the film.)

But then, tragedy struck when Paul was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1965. Diana and Paul moved to New York City so that he could get medical treatment. But by 1967, he was dead. The following years that Diana spent as a widow in new York City were some of the loneliest and saddest in her life, she says. Diana never remarried.

But when one door closes, another one opens. After Paul died, Craig Claiborne, who was The New York Times food editor from 1957 to 1986, set Diana on a path to become a world-renowned chef whose specialty is Mexican cuisine. Diana had always loved cooking, but she didn’t see herself as becoming a professional chef until she got the motivation and help from Claiborne.

Diana says that she once offered to get a Mexican cookbook for Claiborne, and his response was that he didn’t want a Mexican cookbook unless she wrote it herself. At the time, Diana had been giving private cooking classes in her home to privileged society women in New York. Thanks to Claiborne, The New York Times gave Diana a prominent feature article about her cooking classes. This media coverage led to other opportunities, and the rest is history.

Diana eventually moved back to Mexico, where she still teaches small, private cooking classes in her home, which is a spacious villa called Quinta Diana, in Michoacán, Mexico. The documentary includes footage of her teaching a class of a diverse group of people, ranging from experienced chefs who have multiple restaurants to a relative novice who’s only been cooking for three years.

There’s also archival footage of Diana on her TLC series “The Art of Mexican Cooking With Diana Kennedy,” which was on the air in the early 1990s. And there’s a clip of Diana as a guest on “The Martha Stewart Show,” with Diana making traditional Mexican tamales with Martha Stewart.

The documentary also shows Diana at industry events, such as when she was inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame at the 2014 James Beard Awards, or when she was a panelist at The Los Angeles Times Food Bowl in 2018. During a Food Bowl studio photo session separately and together with fellow chef Cámara, the photographer comments to Diana about how feisty Diana is. At one point during the photo session, Diana jokes, “Thank God my black panties don’t show.”

The documentary takes such a reverential approach to Diana Kennedy that it doesn’t really have her reflect on all the opportunities that came her way because of her privileged situation. Yes, she’s undoubtedly talented, and she has many fans who are native Mexican chefs. But Diana came up at a time when white people were almost exclusively given the best opportunities for chefs to reach a worldwide audience through the media and book deals.

Diana says in the documentary that perhaps her biggest influence was Mexican cookbook author Josefina Velázquez de León. However, Velázquez de León would never have been given the same glamorous opportunities for fame and fortune that were given to Diana Kennedy. A lot more people know who Diana Kennedy is rather than the Mexican chef/author who was Diana Kennedy’s biggest influence.

Nowadays, culinary audiences are more attuned to giving cultural credit where credit is due. Cultural appropriation is not as acceptable as it was before the 21st century. Although the documentary hints that some very talented native Mexican chefs might have been overshadowed by Diana Kennedy, there is no further exploration of that subject, since the filmmakers only seem concerned with portraying Diana Kennedy as the best thing that ever happened to Mexican cuisine. It’s a “fan worship” mentality that’s a little off-putting to people who expect documentaries to have a more objective approach.

One thing that the documentary captures well is Diana’s tireless work ethic, since there are many scenes in the film that make it obvious that she has no intentions of retiring. Diana says, “One is never satisfied. There is so much more I’d like to do.” She also says, “You’ve got to realize that cooking is the biggest comeuppance.”

Diana is also very outspoken about her concerns about the environment and where the world is headed. She gives this rant in the documentary: “I think it’s shocking that the more we are connected electronically, the less we are united.”

She continues: “And then, in certain parts of the world, machos come along like [Vladimir] Putin and [Donald] Trump and all the rest of it and want to change it. They don’t see the beauty of this world. We’re destroying our planet. We’re destroying our environment, and it’s such a loss for young people today.”

Diana also shares her philosophy on life. “You can’t win them all.” She adds, “How horrible it is for people to go around wanting to be loved and liked. You just go on doing what you know what you want to do. And at some point, the tide will turn and you make your mark—or you may not.”

Although Diana is extremely confident about her abilities and accomplishments, she shows some humility when she says, “I’m very honored the way so many people look at my books and appreciate what I’ve done. That’s all you can do—and cook for them.”

The cooking scenes in the documentary are fairly good, but not outstanding. What’s actually more impressive is the documentary’s cinematography of Mexico’s gorgeous landscape. Some of the aerial shots are breathtaking. (Paul Mailman and Andrei Zakow are credited as the film’s cinematographers.)

“Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” is not a bad documentary. It’s just not a very insightful or revealing film. It’s the documentary equivalent of a Wikipedia page instead of an illuminating biography.

Greenwich Entertainment released “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on May 22, 2020. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is June 19, 2020, and the DVD release date is June 23, 2020.