That said, perfection is part of what these characters strive for. For Eugénie, Tran said, “if it’s on the table, it means that you did it right at every moment.”
Some food movies have inevitably resorted to compromises. In an interview, Campbell Scott recalled that during the making of “Big Night” (1996), which he directed with Stanley Tucci, a lot of the food tasted blander than it looked. “We were low-budget — not a lot of time and long days,” he said. “You want it filmable eight hours later or 12 hours later. Part of what I remember about that is that for what was shown and not eaten, you couldn’t season it, because seasoning actually makes it break down a little faster.”
There was a funny discussion during production, he said: “Are we trying to make something delicious for the actors to eat, or are we just going to make this kind of unseasoned stuff so that it looks amazing, and then we all have to act? And of course we settled on ‘we all have to act.’”
Still, the restaurant set in “Big Night,” built on a stage at Chelsea Piers, had a working kitchen, something that was also crucial on “The Taste of Things.” Being able to cook extra dishes is essential not just because of the potential for mistakes, Spungen said, but because film crews have to shoot many scenes from multiple angles. Matching shots of food later, in the editing process, can be difficult. (She said she spotted a subtle change in the type of greens used atop the vol-au-vent in “The Taste of Things,” for instance.)
The approach is different from that of cooking shows or documentaries, although those share a crucial element with their fictional counterparts: time. Tran is a fan of the other big food movie of 2023, Frederick Wiseman’s “Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros,” which runs four hours.
“People say that it’s too long, but not for me, because it’s very interesting to see it long,” Tran said, adding, “You have time to see how they doubt about what they decide.”