The dining experience at Stanford can often feel limiting. While there are a slew of options — from Branner ramen to CoHo donuts — when you spend months straight eating a pretty constant supply of pasta noodles and red sauce, things inevitably get dull.
But food is meant to be interesting and fun. A meal should be a part of the day to look forward to and feel optimistic about, not just a chore. The hope of this article is to re-excite these positive feelings toward food and to further appreciate the wonderful people who cook it.
And though it may seem odd to do this through the lens of film, food is meant to be appreciated through more senses than taste — think the sizzle of a grill, or the almost-visible aroma of warm cookies. These “food films” will not only activate your appetite but help you to fall in love with food again.
“Chef” (2014) directed by Jon Favreau
If you have ever found yourself waiting in an unending dining hall line, not knowing or even caring what the food at the end of it is (unless the food is rock cod, in which case you do care), then “Chef” may be for you.
The film centers on Carl (Jon Favreau) and the journey he embarks on after losing his position at a prestigious restaurant. Feeling as disoriented as the average Stanford student trying to find Branner Dining, Carl must search for a new job. In the process, he grapples with strained familial relationships from his past and present, all while trying to rediscover his passion for cooking.
Food is presented like a dance in this film. When Carl teaches his son how to make Cubanos, the pair move around the kitchen with rhythm, gracefully slicing and layering each vibrant ingredient of the dish. The scene is energetic and dynamic — you won’t be able to look at the Wilbur chefs’ effortless wok tosses the same way again.
Every cheese pull and deliciously crunchy bite of food begins to imbue a viewer with the same enthusiasm toward food that Carl exhibits. This film is a love letter to food and the incredible people that make it, helping us all to unearth our own zest for life along the way. “Chef” is a heartwarming tale of rediscovering not only what motivates you but who motivates you. It emphasizes the importance of sharing your love with the people around you and in the work that you do.
“The Lunchbox” (2013) Directed by Ritesh Batra
Everybody’s got one: that one memorable stranger you see in the dining hall on a consistent basis — that person you want to talk to but never have the courage to approach. Through its portrayal of strangers and remote conversations, “The Lunchbox” evokes a feeling of sonder, that deep realization that every single person you pass by has a life just as complex as your own.
The plot of this film revolves around Mumbai’s lunchbox delivery system. Housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) prepares an elaborate lunch for her husband every day. However, through a mixup in the system, Ila quickly learns that the lunch is delivered to the wrong person, widower Saajan (Irrfan Khan), instead. Upon realizing the mistake, Ila and Saajan begin communicating through notes placed in the lunchbox. Despite never having met in person, through these notes Ila and Saajan cultivate a relationship as glorious — and as forbidden — as the athlete-only dining hall.
But it’s not just the notes — Ila and Saajan’s bond is equally informed by the food she makes for him. In “The Lunchbox,” food itself is the message.
“Always Be My Maybe” (2019) Directed by Nahnatchka Khan
There are some days when you walk into the dining hall and leave having experienced a meal that made you feel right at home. It could be the dish itself, but more often than not it comes down to the people you share the meal with, from an hours-long lunch with friends on the couches in Arrillaga to a nonsensical Late Night study session with classmates.
And that’s what “Always Be My Maybe” is all about: how food — and, more crucially, the people you share it with — can serve as a source of comfort, a conduit for nostalgia and a reminder of home.
The film follows esteemed chef Sasha (Ali Wong) and air conditioner mechanic Marcus (Randall Park), who were childhood best friends. After a falling out as teenagers, the two went separate ways — but, 15 years later as adults, they reconnect through a chance encounter. Forced to navigate the waters of their rocky past relationship, Sasha and Marcus must figure out how to build a new friendship in the present.
In a particularly heartwarming scene, Sasha and Marcus return to their favorite childhood dim sum restaurant. Sitting in a peeling plastic booth, they bond over shumai, chicken and tea. They take stock of the changes in their lives amidst the background of the restaurant, a time capsule seemingly untouched by the intervening years.
It’s a poignant and relatable moment, and through emotionally significant meals like these, “Always Be My Maybe” promotes the idea that food can awaken parts of yourself that you did not even know you were repressing.
“Ratatouille” (2007) Directed by Brad Bird
Whether you’re harvesting ingredients from the Lakeside salad bar like a pro or branching out into using Branner’s panini press (hey, you found Branner!), there are numerous ways to cook your own innovative dishes using solely the resources within the dining hall.
Indeed, as “Ratatouille” tells us: “Anyone can cook.”
“Ratatouille” is set in Paris and stars Remy (Patton Oswalt), a talking rat that dreams of being a chef. Remy is the embodiment of cooking something incredible out of seemingly meager resources. To Remy, one man’s scraps are another man’s five-course meal. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with a restaurant’s garbage boy, Linguini (Lou Romano), and together they tackle a world of ruthless critics, chefs and bigotry.
“Ratatouille” requests that we recognize the significance of every single member of a kitchen — Remy, Linguini and everyone in between — reminding us all to consistently express our gratitude to every member of the dining hall staff for the care they put into our food.
This same care is applied in the artistry of the film itself. The dishes are represented in some distinctly beautiful ways, ranging from elements of synesthesia to jolts of memory. These creative efforts are remarkable and evidently quite effective. After all, “Ratatouille” did convince a whole generation of kids to want to try a dish made solely from vegetables.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.