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Both a biopic of a complicated man and an exploration of the gathering forces that converged to shape a new American cuisine and create the cult of “celebrity chef”.
Director: Lydia Tenaglia
Stars: Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, Francesca De Luca
Review by Gilbert Seah
What’s so special and who is this Jeremiah Tower that the man deserves a full length documentary dedicated to his honour?
Tower is a Master Chef and restaurateur who change the look of restauranting. As chef, he would mingle among the customers, something never done before and he created the importance of a chef’s name in a city. Tower was also a very intriguing person, a visionary and someone, everyone admires.
“I have known Jeremiah for 14 years and yet I can say that I do not know him.” So says one of Jeremiah’s friends. The documentary takes considerable amount of time to introduce this Master Chef and restaurateur to the audience. It is only after 15 minutes that the doc links food to the man, in a cruise ship where Jeremiah, as a boy tastes his first cream cake dessert.
JEREMIAH TOWER: THE LAST MAGNIFICENT is the new food documentary tat explores the remarkable life of Jeremiah Tower, one of the most controversial and influential figures in the history of American gastronomy. Tower began his career at the renowned Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1972, becoming a pioneering figure in the emerging California cuisine movement. After leaving Chez Panisse, due in part to a famously contentious relationship with founder Alice Waters, Tower went on to launch his own legendary Stars Restaurant in San Francisco. Stars was an overnight sensation and soon became one of America’s top-grossing U.S. restaurants.
After several years, Tower mysteriously walked away from Stars and then disappeared from the scene for nearly two decades, only to resurface (as when the film opens) in the most unlikely of places: New York City’s fabled but troubled Tavern on the Green. There, he launched a journey of self-discovery (offering loss of voiceover for the film on this matter) familiar to anyone who has ever imagined themselves to be an artist. Featuring interviews by Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, Ruth Reichl and Martha Stewart, this delicious documentary tells the story of the rise and fall of America’s first celebrity chef.
The film traces using a combination or home movie footage and re-enactments how Jeremiah grew into cooking. He was always living in posh hotels whee he discovered the kitchen, dazzled by the cooking aromas. The hotel kitchen staff adopted him as their own. The audience is told Jeremiah read menus more than story books and concocted meals form the menus as well as collected menus. All this explains Jeremiah’s chef roots in a fascinating manner.
Besides haute cuisine, director Tenaglai also reveals the personal and difficult life of the man. Tower was a homosexual, coming out during taboo times. His restaurant, Stars was singled out by the AIDs activists, despite him paying the hospital ills for two of his employees who came down with the disease. Everyone wanted to sleep with him – and he did with both sexes. His relationship with Alice Waters, an important part of his life is also given due screen time.
JEREMIAH TOWER: THE LAST MAGNIFICENT is an interesting account of an interesting man. The doc will not disappoint.
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