Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson,
Bob Balaban, Brian F. O'Byrne
Director: Scott Hicks
Theatrical release: 2007; available on DVD
Good food is serious business — and it can also be a lot of fun. Both sides of that coin are on display in the charming story of No Reservations.
This is not Anthony Bourdain's world-traveling and stomach-churning adventures with road kill and dysentery. It's a New York restaurant, a chef, and all the kitchen clatter that accompanies upscale fine dining in the city. It's also a story of how a woman who has devoted her life to food and the culinary arts must learn to take care of her orphaned niece, get a life for herself, and maybe even make a family out of it.
An appropriately cool and focused Catherine Zeta-Jones, the omnipresent Abigail Breslin, and the quirky Aaron Eckhart form the centerpiece trio of this engaging romantic comedy with several twists. They get able assists from Patricia Clarkson, who plays the owner of the restaurant where Zeta-Jones' Chef Kate runs a tight kitchen ship, and Bob Balaban, as the therapist challenged to get her attention and help her get a life. (He also enjoys her food.)
The director mixes humor and drama in well-blended measures and offers a believable scenario. Of course, there's a lot of good-looking and, apparently, good-tasting food, too, and everyone's all in for that.
The DVD provides an interesting 20-minute backstory blurb from Marc Summers of TV's Food Network, explaining how the locations were scouted and transformed, and discussing what the actors needed to learn about cooking in order to make their presentations believable.
As for me, I learned to cook from scratch, using family recipes, sample tasting, and approximations for measures ("Hmmm... Maybe I should add a pinch of..."), and I cooked for a good-sized family as a youngster. To top it off, I was actually named the Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow during my senior year in high school. Even at the age of 17 and after more than 10 years of experience in the kitchen, I didn't but probably should have seen that one coming.
Although my current foodie efforts focus more on fresh and less on utensils, I recently worked with a multi-campus university that brought the memories back. This college offers several industry-based programs, one of which is culinary arts. Some of their alumni are also Food Network favorite stars, including Emeril Legasse, Tyler Florence, and Michelle Bernstein. After touring the spotless facilities in these culinary teaching programs, sampling their fare, and seeing this film again, I remain amazed at how much good food is served in any location at any time. Doing it for a family of six is one thing. For a restaurant of any measurable size is another. No Ratatouille cute-mice-in-the-kitchen here. Just a lot of good people who love good food and want to share it with others.
A home kitchen hardly matches the professional layout of a restaurant, even when lots of people now try hard to duplicate it. But, as we see in No Reservations, the intersection food, cooking, humor, and warmth can be the basis for bringing people together, no matter how far off track they've gone.