Step Up To The Plate

Step Up To The Plate


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Food documentaries are firmly on the festival menu at the moment, funnelled, if not fueled by the Berlinale and San Sebastian Film Festival's strands on Culinary Cinema. From El Bulli to A Matter Of Taste, chefs are taking centre-stage. Paul Lacoste's entry into the canon is a surprisingly laidback one - he is much less interested than the heat and sizzle of a kitchen under pressure, than the family relationships that stand behind the triple Michelin starred Le Suquet (now Bras) restaurant in Laguiole, France.

Founded by patriarch Michel, he started the establishment from scratch and has worked alongside his son Sébastian for 15 years. Now, the time has come for him to pass on the mantle. As Lacoste goes on to show, this is less about Sébastian "stepping up to the plate" - the original French title Between The Bras is in many ways more apt" - and more about Michel stepping away from it.

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Lacoste gives a real sense of the hours and concentration both men put in and their emphasis on food within the natural landscape - pop to their official site, for example, and you'll be greeted by the sound of birdsong, including a cuckoo. We see the father and son working together at the market long before sunrise, and explaining how to create their gargouillou signature dish, which boasts a staggering array of vegetable leaves and herbal dollops and plate swipes to create something for which the phrase 'it looks too good to eat' could have been created.

Unlike many food programmes and films, which keep you at the heart of a busy kitchen and leave no time to stop and think, Lacoste is the film equivalent of the slow food movement, watching the men as they consider their family cooking heritage in the French countryside or observing Sébastian as he silently goes about the painstaking task of creating a new signature dish of his own. Lacoste also widens his scope to include Michel's parents, his wife Ginette and Sébastian's wife Veronique and their children.

If Michel is a firm critic when it comes to Sébastian's food, the men also have a touchingly strong bond of love and understanding. Although, it is often the women that get to the heart of the matter. Sébastian's mum notes how much harder it is for her son to stay at the top than it was for her and his father to climb there in the first place, while Veronique eloquently outlines her husband's desire to follow in his father's footsteps from a very young age. Ginette also hits the nail on the head, when she smiles at her husband and says, "He's not ready to retire."

As for Sébastian, he's less gung-ho than his dad but no less passionate about what goes on his plate, striving to put a piece of his soul into his dishes as well as the bald ingredients. His grandmother, too, offers an insight into the drive and cooking spirit of the family, with a reference to what her own mother would think of her using a potato peeler to shave chocolate, showing how a recipe can echo down the generations. The pace of the film, like the turning of the seasons, country life and the shift in control of the Bras empire, is slow, but no less enthralling for that.

Reviewed on: 24 Nov 2012
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The story of Michelin starred chef Michel and his son Sébastien, as father prepares to hand over the running of the restaurant to his son after a 15-year apprenticeship.
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Director: Paul Lacoste

Starring: Michel Bras, Sébastien Bras

Year: 2011

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: France

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