There are a lot of clichés when it comes to putting food on film. Almost always, food is shorthand for sensuality. Show us a woman who rolls a tomato between her palms at the farmers' market, licks her fingers in the kitchen, or closes her eyes and moans when anything tasty ends up in her mouth, and we know we're meant to believe that she's a tiger in bed. If she does that to a tomato, the reasoning goes, imagine what she'll do with...
The food inspires the sex, or stands in for the sex until a lover enters the picture. If you know how to cook and/or eat, the reasoning goes in films like Eat Pray Love, I Am Love, Chocolat, and Like Water for Chocolate, then you know how to love, or at least how to get it on up against the fridge. And if you don't know how to love, learning how to eat will take you there. (Restaurant movies, like Big Night and the upcoming documentary about Danny Meyer, The Restauranteur, are a different story: more men, more competition, a lot more stress than sex.)
Of course, like most cliché-ridden things, some of this is true. Don't you have a foolproof dish or two that never fails to lure an attractive stranger home? (Thank you, peach pie!) I've been wooed with dim-sum dumplings, challah French toast, coffee in bed, cheese grits, a boat full of sushi, a perfect steak.
One of the frankest and sexiest of all food stories is still Dorothy Allison's "A Lesbian Appetite," in which she writes, "I remember women by what we ate together, what they dug out of the freezer after we'd made love for hours. I've only had one lover who didn't want to eat at all. We didn't last long. The sex was good but I couldn't think what to do with her when the sex was finished. We drink spring water, and fight a lot."
She then goes on, in sweaty, salty detail, to describe the good stuff she and her other lovers shared: roadside barbecue and Yoo-hoos smuggled into a vegetarian women's music festival, fried eggplant and tomatoes ripe from the garden, long-simmered greens and leftover biscuits. Here, as elsewhere, the food leads to the sex, the sex is great, and then you're both starving and you end up eating again, which leads to...well, there's a reason Safeway has so many 24-hour supermarkets here.
So, not surprisingly, gorgeous food does lead to delicious sex in the film Recipe for Love, featured in two upcoming programs of shorts at the Frameline35 LGBT film festival. And the food really does look good enough to eat, or make anyone fall in love with the cook.
The 26-minute piece, made by first-time filmmaker Chauncey Wales, revolves around the food-laden stories of Chance Oliveida, a young Brazilian woman living in San Francisco (played by Brazilian actress Fernanda Jimena). Chance runs a green cleaning company, but she'd really rather be cooking. So when one of her cleaners skips an appointment at the (huge and spotless) apartment of young businesswoman-on-the-go Juliette (Coriander Stasi), Chance shows up to do the job herself, bringing along a box of homemade truffles perfumed with cinnamon, chiles, and rosewater ("romance in a bottle," as Chance murmurs to herself while adding a few drops) to apologize.
Juliette takes the truffles to bed with her (closed eyes, gasp, close-up), and soon she's enlisting Chance to cook dinner for her, her food-snob sister and her brother-in-law. At the party, the guests fall in love with Chance's food—mango-and-Champagne soup, oysters on the half shell, scallops decked with flowers—and before Chance can finish reciting the recipe for the passionfruit mousse, she and Juliette are stripping down in the hallway for their own after-hours party for two.
Wales, a passionate cook herself, gives full credit for the on-screen food to Jessy Manuel, a 24-year-old professional chef who auditioned for the part of Chance. She didn't get the part, but she turned out to the be the perfect choice for food stylist and second assistant director. Before the shoot, Wales, Manuel, and Jimena spend hours together talking about food, trying to figure out what kinds of food would reflect how Chance lives between two worlds, contemporary San Francisco and her homeland in southeastern Brazil. They came up with many dishes (yucca fries, peach chimichurri sauce), only a fraction of which made it into the movie.
And while the music and accents may be Brazilian, the vibe is very San Franciscan, from the skyline and opening Ferry Plaza farmers' market shots to the jilted, cheating boyfriend who's curing his wandering ways with Bikram yoga (while ogling the yoga teacher). And that candlelit scallop dish, layered with broth, jewel-toned vegetables, and a scatter of edible flowers? Utterly ravishing.