American Cuisine: Feature about Erotic Food

“Erotic” food doesn’t feature prominently in American Cuisine as it does in other films of this subgenre, whose highlights include Like Water for Chocolate and the American indie Big Night. Nonetheless, the picture offers considerable charm as a cross-cultural romantic comedy about the (mis) adventures of an American cook, who finds himself undergoing “basic training” under the tutelage of a tyrannical French chef and in the process falls for his daughter. Toplined by Jason Lee, a regular member of the Kevin Smith troupe, and the beautiful international star Irene Jacob, this light, often-amusing movie, which has the benefit of speaking English, could score modestly in major urban markets as a twentysomething date film.

Though coming from a family which runs a takeaway pizzeria and is employed by the U.S. Navy as a cook, Loren Collins (Lee) is nonetheless an American dreamer who hopes one day to equal the culinary genius of Louis Boyer (Eddie Mitchell), the French master chef who owns his four-star, world-famous restaurant in the heart of France. Opportunity knocks when Loren is dishonorably discharged from the Navy for assaulting a senior-officer in the admiral’s kitchen.

Equipped with more chutzpa and determination than genuine talent or skills, Loren sells his favorite motorcycle and flies to France–full of high hopes and expectations. Due to linguistic misunderstandings, Louis’ sister, Carole, who manages the restaurant, expects Loren to be a “Lorraine,” a new female recruit to replace the woman chef who left for a maternity leave. Committed to maintain an equal balance between the sexes in the kitchen, Louis claims that Loren’s presence will upset the equilibrium and hence fires him before he even gets a chance to begin.

A few hours later, however, Loren accidentally meets Louis at a local basketball match, where the two men realize they share three passions: cuisine, motorcycles and basketball. Under pressure, Louis gives the novice a trial run–and a hellish instruction begins under the auspices of the capricious, larger-than-life Louis. The kitchen resembles a mad house, populated by hysterical personalities like Carole, who seems to be in a perpetuate state of nervous breakdown. In addition to work-related pressures, there are romantic tensions between the cooks, including an exchange of meaningful looks between Loren and Gabrielle (Jacob), Louis’ lovely daughter.

Once the premise is established, the narrative begins pile up a list of obstacles that prevent Loren from being fully integrated into the restaurant–there’s jealousy, competition, and constant fear of being caught as an illegal alien by the immigration authorities. Then there’s Gabrielle, who shows tentative interest in Loren but is engaged to be married to a stuffy guy. Climax occurs when Louis is rushed to the hospital after suffering a stroke, forcing Loren and Gabrielle to unite forces professionally (and later romantically) to safeguard the restaurant’s prestige. All this happens when a nasty food critic is at the place and a tax investigator comes to examine the accounting records.

The yarn is rather predictable but the two or three sequences of extensive food preparation are sensually presented. With the exception of some slapstick comedy, which is fun, most of the humor in American Cuisine is light–the kind that encourages smiles rather than hearty laughter. The chemistry between the very American Lee and the very French Jacob, whose English has improved substantially over the last couple of years, elevates the film at least a notch above a routine boulevard comedy.