Film Review: THE MISSING INGREDIENT: WHAT IS THE RECIPE FOR SUCCESS?

the_missing_incredient.jpgTHE MISSING INGREDIENT: WHAT IS THE RECIPE FOR SUCCESS?

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE MISSING INGREDIENT: WHAT IS THE RECIPE FOR SUCCESS? is the question posed throughout this new documentary of the same name. The answer is given near the end of the film by one of the owners of Gino’s, the successful restaurant that became an institution in NYC. However, one might argue if that is the correct answer- or that there are more ingredients to its success.

Whatever the point is, this Canadian documentary is strangely totally set in NYC. One wonders of the reason the effort was not taken up by an American filmmaker. Maybe it takes an outsider to be able to see the whole picture.

The film centres on two restaurants in NYC. One is already a success as an institution, the Italian Gino’s and the other, another Italian restaurant, Pescatore that strives desperately to be one. Director Sparaga interviews the owners of both restaurants, the clientele and workers. It is difficult to define the success of Gino’s. Gino’s is an unpretentious place, where the customers become family. Gino’s does not accept credit cards, but allows credit as kept in the log of a handwritten book. Gino’s has bright orangey red zebra wallpaper that became the restaurant’s icon. A big part at the end of the film has Pescatore using, after Gino’s has closed, the identical wallpaper with zebras but in yellow – to disastrous results.

Sparaga’s film flows easily. It is a very likeable documentary that never passes judgement on any one of his subjects. Even when Charles, the owner of Pescatore steals Gino’s wallpaper, a definite no-no, as opinionated by everyone interviewed on this subject, Sparaga goes on to film Charle’s view on the topic, even as he he says at his restaurant that if anyone working there will not support the wallpaper would best be looking for a job someplace else. Sparaga later allows Charles as he opens his new restaurant to be respected for his hard work and dedication despite a bad decision in the past.

This is where Sparaga’s film succeeds. Despite having a restaurant’s success as the subject, his film is also a candid study of people’s behaviour – their loyalties; their dedication; their goals and their pleasures. Restaurant come and go. People don’t. Gino’s though terribly successful had to finally close its doors. It is what can be learnt from the people and not from the restaurant that is priceless.

By the time the last reel is played, the audience will remember the sad faces of the founders of Gino’s, the face of Charles who tried so hard to make Pescatore work as well as the words of the loyal customers of Gino’s. But many will not recall the dishes at Gino’s that were displayed in the film.

THE MISSING INGREDIENT: WHAT IS THE RECIPE FOR SUCCESS? turns out to be a very likeable documentary that is easy to watch. It dishes out life lessons as famously as Gino’s dished out great food.

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