Hollieats: Sweet showings to soothe the stressors of the semester

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selective focus photography of pasta with tomato and basil
With the heat of midterms and projects, you might not have time or energy to cook, but you can certainly take a break from the studying with a good food film, show, or documentary. Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

As the University of Connecticut nears the end of week seven of the semester and continues through the thick of midterm exams, essays and projects that March brings forth, you may feel as if you don’t have enough time to dedicate to meals, rest and enjoyments. However, that is all the more reason to keep up with such daily necessities – no class or job is worth your mental and physical health.  

If you feel you don’t necessarily have the time or energy to cook, but still want the comfort of food, queue up these shows and movies for a taste of inspiration, relaxation and good ol’ food lust. Excuse the food puns in advance. 

Fresh films 

I don’t hear it talked about often, but my family and I really enjoy “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” a comedy-drama about an Indian family moving to southern France and opening a restaurant right across from an upscale, Michelin star-awarded French restaurant.  Albeit a bit cheesy or preachy at times, the 2014 film offers a combination of inspiration – from protagonist Hassan’s progression as a chef, comfort in the familial and romantic relationships, introspection about the immigrant and cultural narratives and an almost-ASMR-like portrayal of the food and cooking. It’s not the most groundbreaking movie out there, but it’s a safe and cozy choice. 

If you want a food-focused movie that throws some more spice into its setting and scenes, “Chef” (also released in 2014) follows Jon Favreau’s talented, but frustrated chef character, Carl Casper, as he charts out his own culinary path. After a viral confrontation with a food critic, Carl opens a Cuban-inspired food truck with a fellow sous chef, reinvigorating his love of food, regaining self-confidence in his abilities and restoring his personal relationships that deteriorated in the midst of his professional career. The sheer appreciation for the food and culture shine through in this fun film, and the shots of food will be sure to make your mouth water. The pasta that Carl makes for Scarlett Johansson’s character became viral itself, inspiring a “Binging with Babish” recreation. 

2009’s “Julie and Julia” follows more in the dramedy style of “The Hundred Foot Journey,” combining the lives of chef Julia Child and New Yorker Julie Powell, who blogs about her challenge to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s famous cookbook in a year. It’s not the most exciting movie, but it offers a quaint, provincial comparison of the lives of two women separated by years – and of course, offers fair focus on the delicious food. 

And how could I not mention Pixar favorite “Ratatouille”? You probably know all about this beloved, quirky classic and its magical method of making all the food look delectable. I’m not sure which scene I like most: Remy and Linguini making omelets together, Remy crackling the loaf of bread or the creation of the titular ratatouille dish. 

Delicious docuseries 

In my opinion, Netflix reigns supreme in this category. Docuseries not only allow you to appreciate the aesthetic appeal of food itself – the closest you can get to experiencing the food without eating it – but you also get to appreciate the story behind it: the culture, the people cooking it, the ingredients, the community. “Salt Fat Acid Heat” does a great job of capturing this sentiment also expressed in Samin Nosrat’s book of the same title. For a longer and more expansive series on various cuisines, I highly recommend “The Chef’s Table.” Other great choices depending on your mood are “Street Food,” “Somebody Feed Phil,” “Taco Chronicles” and “Eater’s Guide to the World.” 

Tasty TV 

Want to be taken to Flavortown with just a push of a button on your remote? Queue up the classic “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” with Guy Fieri for quick bites of some of the most outrageous, but delicious-looking food across the country. “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” is another classic and features the famous, ground-breaking late chef as well. Buzzfeed’s “Worth It” – which I’ve been watching since its debut – similarly offers short episodes that manage to pack in  high-quality content. Hosts Steven Lim and Andrew Ilnycky and cameraman Adam Bianchi have  infectious chemistry, and they similarly approach the places they feature with an appreciation for getting to know the background behind the dish: the culture, the thoughts of the chef, the ingredients and of course the taste.  

And there’s a whole slew of cooking and baking competition shows out there. “The Great British Bake-Off” is my favorite. However, I certainly had my “Chopped,” “Beat Bobby Flay” and “Cutthroat Kitchen” phases, and for good reason. They’re addictingly easy to watch, with just 30-minute episodes that you can watch in any order. “Masterchef” and “Iron Chef” require a bit more commitment, but allow you to root for a chef throughout a season. “The Final Table” is a global competition that ups the stakes and adds some fresh meat to the cooking competition catalog. “The Big Family Cooking Showdown” is a bit more lowkey than its baking counterpart (GBBO), but offers the same charming fun with some  amateur cluelessness thrown in. 

I’m not saying you need to carve out an hour and a half in your schedule to bake a loaf of banana bread every week, as you may have done in the midst of quarantine. (But also, if you enjoy doing it, I fully support such an endeavor and request at least one slice to be sent to me. For testing purposes.) You can –  and should – always make time every day to ensure you are  eating what keeps you fueled along with what you actually enjoy, to give yourself a mental break from the stress of school and studying and to (safely) check in with others – whether it be through a call or going downstairs to watch some TV with your parents. So maybe you’re cramming for an essay due at midnight, and you still haven’t deciphered what you’re writing about. That doesn’t mean you should skip out on dinner! You can sacrifice 15 minutes to heat up some leftovers or pick up some takeout. Need more of a brain break? Whipping up a recipe in half an hour allows you to engage yourself in a different way than just staring at a screen. Unless it’s to watch one of these culinary choices. 

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