Tasting 'Ratatouille'

It's rare that I'm champing at the bit to see a movie on opening weekend, but for "Ratatouille," the Pixar feature-length cartoon about a culinarily-inclined rat, I gladly queued up Saturday night.

My love for the cartoon and the art of make-believe has continued well into adulthood (Anyone love "The Triplets of Belleville" as much as I did?) but a cartoon about cooking -- well, that's about as good as life gets. The trailer practically had me licking my chops.


Remy the Rat makes omelettes the proper way for his pal Linguini. (Walt Disney Pictures)

A tale of Remy the Parisian rat who's got a passion for cooking, the film delivers lifelike culinary detail that equals (or maybe surpasses) that of real-life food-centric movies such as "Big Night," "Eat Drink Man Woman" and "Like Water for Chocolate."

If you like watching cooking shows, you'll love the attention to technique in Auguste Gusteau's kitchen -- the lemon zesting with a microplane, the tossing of leeks and the crushing of chervil leaves into a soup pot, the requisite flip of the wrist and shaking of a sauté pan, the use of copper pots. The Pixar team captures kitchen nuance as well, from the nervous checking of tickets on the line to the private conversation that Linguini the garbage boy has with Remy in the walk-in refrigerator, sometimes the only place in the kitchen to escape, as other cooks will attest.

But. There is a but. As much as I loved the culinary cinema verite, I about lost my cookies with the group shots. The same pristine walk-in with its lifelike, mouth-watering shelves of fruit and cheese is invaded by an army of Remy's extended family and friends. And in case you forgot, like I sometimes did, Remy is a rat.

Another challenging scene takes place at the beginning, when Remy and his brother Emile are in pursuit of saffron to add to his mushroom (a chanterelle, by chance?) and gooey cheese combo. When the old woman, whose kitchen Remy et al are scouring, discovers the intruders, she pulls out a shot gun and goes on an anti-rodent rampage. She aims at Emile, who's swinging on the chandelier, and suddenly, the entire ceiling comes crashing down - and so does "the colony" of rats. Rats are everywhere, and that's when I slid under my seat.

And yet, and yet...the ghost of chef Auguste Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garrett) offers culinary inspiration for cooks of all kinds. Throughout the film, Gusteau emphasizes the idea that when we cook, we create and we offer a gift to others, versus the stealing of food that rats (and gluttons) are known for.

The title of his legendary cookbook is "Anyone Can Cook," is a philosophy that resonates for me and coincidentally, the working title of a manuscript I started writing about five years ago.

So... did you see it? And what did you think? Delicious, repulsive or a little bit of both?

By the way, later this month, this summer's second food-centric movie hits the big screen. "No Reservations," the remake of my beloved "Mostly Martha," stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as a neurotic chef whose life suddenly changes when she must take care of her niece, played by Abigail Breslin, of "Little Miss Sunshine" fame.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 2, 2007; 11:42 AM ET Food Movie News
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Haven't seen Ratatouille, but want to. I'll probably wait for it to be available on Netflix, though.

The title of your post though reminded me of a recipe that I've been digging on lately...Caribbean Ratatouille. It's from one of the South Beach Diet cookbooks, I think, but like a lot of those recipes, I'm not able to find the produce locally here in the Midwest that is called for. I have, consequently, developed my own stand-ins, and boy, is it good (even the sneaky dog thinks so :p)

1 small acorn squash, peeled and cut into chunks
1 onion, chopped
1 green banana (or plaintain, but I like the banana better), sliced
2 poblanos, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 green tomatoes (or chayote squash), chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin
salt to taste
1 cup OJ

Heat the olive oil and add the veggies in order at 2-3 minute intervals (add the chayote before the poblanos, if using). Add spices and OJ. Cover and simmer about 5 minutes, or until the veggies are tender.

Posted by: Brownsburg, IN | July 2, 2007 1:34 PM

Yes! I raced to the theater last weekend to see Ratatouille. I thought it was just excellent, and the animation was the best I've ever seen. I wasn't squicked by the rats at all, though I wouldn't want them in my attic.... Remy in particular washed his little paws a great deal before touching the food, and then he gave his family a large-scale bath, leaving them... dare I say... cute and fluffy?
Regarding the title dish, as a veggie lover, I was thrilled that a simple vegetarian casserole/stew got the crowning glory and attention. I'm chomping at the bit for big tomatoes and eggplants to come into season later this summer so I can try my hand at some ratatouille of my own.
Finally, Peter O'Toole is at the top of his game. (I admit, I am a little biased: he had me at "George Michael Hartley, this is a nasty dark little room.") His monologue at the end had me tearing up a little bit. I'll be seeing this one again, for sure!

Posted by: Triplets of Belleville lover! | July 2, 2007 1:55 PM

Yes, I saw it Friday night! I loved it! The animation was great and the voice performances by all the actors were perfect. I have to admit that there were times when I would forget that Remy and his friends were rats and while I wouldn't want regular rats around my kitchen, I would love to try out the signature ratatouille that Remy prepared for Anton Ego.

Posted by: Little Red | July 2, 2007 2:09 PM

Yes! I saw it Friday night also, and it was fantastic!! Worth the price of the ticket, and I wasn't really skeeved out by the rats...but then I haven't spent much time in restaurant kitchens, so maybe that's it.

Posted by: JEA | July 2, 2007 3:44 PM

i definitely had the delicious/repulsive reaction, remy was adorable but a rat in the kitchen...ewww.

Posted by: the ocho | July 2, 2007 4:55 PM

I really enjoyed the movie. I think that due to not having a shall we say "first-hand experience" with fighting rats, I did not think that they were all that icky. I loved the way the upscale French food was both demystified and glorified.

Posted by: suburbanite | July 2, 2007 5:44 PM

The whole family went on Sat. My kids, being kids, love animated stuff and they love cooking shows (wonder where they get that?) I loved the attention to detail that was given to the kitchen, right down to the burn marks on one of the chefs. As for the rat thing, Remy was cute when not in the kitchen, but big eww when he and family were - between being raised on a farm and being in culinary, I really don't like rats, regardless of how clean they are. Again, loved the movie! If you haven't already, check out the podcasts for the movie on iTunes, Brad Bird and team really got into making Ratatouille as realistic as possible!

Posted by: Culinary Student Honolulu, HI | July 3, 2007 12:56 PM

Kim, it's "champing" at the bit, not "chomping."

Posted by: Friend | July 4, 2007 5:02 AM

I saw the movie on Saturday night, and loved it. It is a must for anyone that loves to cook, and the animation was wonderful. I loved Remy even though in real life, I would (and have!) run screaming when I saw a mouse in my own kitchen!

Posted by: Dede | July 4, 2007 1:29 PM

A fabulous movie for foodies is Chenni Kum, a new Indian/English film about an irascible, aging restaurnt owner who falls in love with a much younger woman. They meet when she sends back a dish, something unheard of in his restaurant, and then brings in the properly cooked version. The film is new, hard to find, but well worth the search. I'm eagerly awaiting the DVD so I can watch it again and again.

Posted by: June Ulkoski | July 9, 2007 8:07 PM

I loved the movie and cannot wait to get it on DVD. I often forgot that Remy was a rat, so the scenes with him and his brethern in the kitchen I was OK with,until I remembered...they're rats. :) So while I love them in the movie, if I saw them in my kitchen, it wouldn't be a good thing. I went home and printed off some "ratatouille" recipes, and I'm tempted to buy a mandolin so I can make it the way it was presented in the movie.

Posted by: Emily | July 10, 2007 11:36 AM

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