Talking food with ‘Final Recipe’ director Gina Kim
The foodie film, “Final Recipe,” staring Michelle Yeoh, Henry Lau and Chin Han, made its American premiere during the opening night of this year’s Hawaii International Film Festival. The story revolves around an internationally televised cooking competition, which shares its name with the film. A young boy and cooking prodigy named Mark (played by Henry Lau), ambitiously enters the competition to win the million dollar prize and save his grandfather’s restaurant.
I had a chance to meet the with the film’s director, Gina Kim, to discuss what it took to create “Final Recipe.” “Food is an integral part of the film,” she said. “It wasn’t like we created a drama and added the food after the fact. From its very conception, food has always been a main character in the film.”
The competition depicted in the film is broken up into several rounds, each designed to test the contestants’ skills. First, they’re tasked with cooking the perfect omelet. I found this particularly brilliant because although omelets are easy to make, they’re also easy to screw up, which is why many chefs use it as a way to test the skill of any potential hires. I asked Kim how she came up with the idea for the omelet round.
“I was hugely inspired by Chef Daniel Boulud, who wrote a beautiful book called, ‘Letters to a Young Chef,’” Kim said. “When I was writing the script, I had read it many many times and was inspired by it. So I thought that as a homage to him and his writing; the preliminary round would be omelet.”
When production began, it just so happened that Yeoh is good friends with Boulud, which resulted in him appearing in the film to introduce the competition round he inspired.
Other rounds included specific themes like rock-n-roll, royalty, ’60s sci-fi and Chinese banquet – each selected to be visually, musically and aesthetically different from anything currently on the air. Put all of these ingredients together, and I found myself thinking that I would definitely watch this show if it were on TV.
“Final Recipe” is by far one of the most eclectic food films I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch, featuring some amazing food scenes ranging from Asian street food to molecular gastronomy to French nouveau cuisine.
Kim said several chefs and food specialists were consulted during production, but supervising the food unit fell upon the talents of Singapore based chef, John See. Including all the other foods featured in the film, See was challenged with creating a menu utilizing molecular gastronomy. “That was one style that was difficult to incorporate into the film,” Kim said. “It is very specific, and there are only a hand full of people in the world who do that.”
According to Kim, they faced many challenges in developing the molecular menu. First and foremost, the dishes had to look good, while at the same time be something they could recreate multiple times. “There were some techniques of molecular gastronomy that we just couldn’t use in the film like one where you pour liquid into a bowl and it evaporates,” she said. “Things like that are fun to see in a restaurant, but are just not practical for a film.”
Another interesting aspect of “Final Recipe” were the ethnically diverse characters who each embodied an certain culinary style. While watching the film, I recognized traits shared by current and former colleagues from among the cast of characters.
“We wanted this to be a Pan-Asian film and not just focus on just one ethnicity,” Kim said. “We wanted to celebrate all sorts of different ethnic foods from all over Asia and even French and nouveau cuisine.”
At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to Mark’s grandfather, Hao, who is a very good chef, but is set in his ways and married to tradition. Standing in stark contrast to him is the show’s master chef champion, David Chan (played by Chin Han), who the competitors are battling for the right to face in the final round. Kim points out that Chan represents the modern contemporary breed of chefs. “Mark represents the new generation which embraces both worlds,” she said. “So, the grandfather and Chan represent the two extremes, and Mark is the reconciliation of the two styles.”
Other archetypes represented in the film are Mark’s reluctant team mates in the competition. Shawn, the Australian chef, is into impromptu cooking and embraces the locavore movement. He loves Asian food, and in many ways is the Chinese food specialist of the group because of it. Then there is Kaori, a Japanese girl who studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. As a result, she prefers the haute cuisine with foie gras and truffles. Rounding out the team is Bobby, who Kim points out isn’t really a chef, but more of a personality and represents the marketing aspect of the food industry.
“There’s nothing wrong with any of those styles,” Kim adds, “it’s just different ways of cooking.”
There are a lot of details that Kim was able to incorporate into “Final Recipe” that any chef or foodie will be able to recognize, and they all work together to create a film that is truly unique. The central protagonist, Mark, sums up his cooking style with a quote that very much applies to what Kim has been able to do with this film.
“I think in cooking, as in music, harmony is greater than the sum of it’s parts. I wanted to bring all these ingredients together to create something new… something one of a kind.”