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A Documentary Worth Savoring: “Step Up to the Plate”

The documentaries “Step Up to the Plate” and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” have a few things in common; both touch on the relationships between fathers and sons, the elusive pursuit of perfection and the idea of food as an art form. And both feature chefs operating twenty levels higher than the rest of us mortal home cooks. Make that thirty.

I loved “Step Up to the Plate,” but I realize it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. The leisurely paced film takes place over the period of a year, as it follows chefs Michel Bras and his son Sebastien. Michel is a revered three-star Michelin chef, who’s preparing to retire and hand his renowned restaurant over to his son. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of pressure.

The movie makes you feel Sebastien’s strain. He doesn’t so much say it, but you can see the weight of it in his eyes. When you’re at the top, there’s nowhere to go but down. The transition is equally as hard on his father, who has a legacy to uphold and can’t imagine a life away from the kitchen. Both men come off as thoroughly decent, and you want them to succeed.

The whole movie is sort of quiet, subtle and beautiful. The chefs’ attention to the tiniest details are astonishing; they fuss about herbs and texture and plating. (Wait’ll you see the way these guys plate — there’s a sequence right at the top with a salad, and I’d never even heard of half the ingredients.)

Hands down my favorite scene — when Sebastien walks into the restaurant’s test kitchen alone and creates/tests a new recipe. No background music, no dialogue, barely any sound at all; just the hum of the kitchen and the sight of a chef in full concentration. If you’re really into food, this scene’s gonna hook you. It’s utterly fascinating — like observing an artist in his studio — only instead of watching a painter paint, you’re inside the mind of a chef.

Like “Jiro Dream of Sushi,” “Step Up to the Plate” affirms the values of hard work and dedication to a craft. These guys aren’t celebrity chef sellouts, they care. You get the feeling that even though Michel Bras is retiring, his restaurant is in good hands.

Damn do I love movies about food.

Watch the trailer here.