I could not wait to slap the new Ratatouille DVD into my player and watch it, not so much to see the extraordinarily good animated film again, but for the extras. In particular, I wanted to see how chef Thomas Keller came up with the updated version of the vegetable dish that was central to the film's denouement.
When the film opened this past summer, several food writers homed in on Keller, who was the food consultant to the animators. Keller's restaurants, including French Laundry in Yountville and Per Se in New York, serve the same kind of inspired cuisine as Rémy, the hero of the story, creates at Gusteau's, the fictional restaurant in the movie. The animators captured the look and feel of a professional restaurant kitchen brilliantly, both in how the way the chefs worked with each other and on the food.
The stories said that the animators had filmed Keller when he was cooking, the better to get the movements and the look right. I expected the extras to show him demonstrating how to make the version of ratatouille used in the film. There is a featurette, and in it we do see him at work on the ratatouille, but it's not a separate item. Instead, it's part of a great featurette. It juxtaposes interviews with director Brad Bird and Keller and footage of them at work, emphasizing some striking parallels in how they work and create.
Keller comes off as a regular guy, not a snob but someone who has spent his life pursuing perfection. In their separate interviews, both Keller and Bird admit that achieving perfection is, in the end, impossible. But it's fascinating to see Bird urging his animation team to try one more fillip to make a scene special and then watch Keller getting his chefs to hone their ideas until get one that will rock their patrons.
In another scene, Keller talks about going beyond the routines in the kitchen to create something that is no longer mundane, just as Bird describes the tedious, repetitive process of making drawn images come to life yet say something about the characters and ourselves.
Who knew cuisine and animation had so much in common?
As for the title dish, we see Keller and his chefs carefully slicing the tomatoes and vegetables, and Keller transferring bundles of the cooked slices to a plate for serving, creating an attractive stack of bundles facing different directions. The interviewer asks if that's a traditional technique. "I just did it," Keller responds. "Sometimes things just get you at the last moment."
The finished dish is inspired. So is the film. Rent it or buy it, and don't miss the bonus features.
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