Ratatouille- a guide to living well
WATCH IT WHEN YOU NEED: Culinary inspiration
YOU’LL LIKE IT IF YOU LIKE: Chef's Table, Masterchef, Kitchen Nightmares, Saturday Kitchen Live, Ugly Delicious.
I know what you’re thinking. But stay with me here.
We are being constantly bombarded with an ever changing river of advice on how to live well. Social media is flooded with never ending, constantly contradicting advice on how to eat well, sleep well, breathe well, feel well, exercise well, lose weight well. Flat tummy tea, hair vitamin gummies, guided meditation apps, Korean avocado based skincare products, two week intense fitness plans, 8 glasses of tepid water with lemon and cayenne before bed,
MAKE YOUR LIFE BETTER TODAY!
The internet’s mission to make me live well is seriously impacting my ability to live well.
Constant guidelines on how to be mindful and nourish my body have left me rather oppositional. Recently after learning how eating a raw carrot and marmite diet and meditating for six hours a day could make me live 10 years longer I staged a protest. I ate a Pot Noodle in my pants whilst watching The Jeremy Kyle Show and scrolling on my phone. Up yours internet wellness!
Anyway. Let me get to the point here. Whilst watching the amazing Netflix food series Ugly Delicious, Dave Chang mentioned that the taste of an amazing meal can evoke a Ratatouille moment. If you haven’t seen the film, he’s referring to the triumphant moment that Remy the Rat serves a dish of Ratatouille to a snooty critic, which transports the critic back to his childhood and fills his heart with joy.
This got me thinking and led me to rewatch Disney Pixar’s 2007 movie Ratatouille. Disney Pixar movies have a strong hold over my heart, as I took my baby brother to the cinema to see them in years gone by, when he was still cute. I feel that Disney Pixar are really churning out some of the great children’s movies of this generation, with so many of them having important messages at their heart for adults and children alike. I don’t know anyone who didn’t cry at the first ten minutes of Up, and I defy a person to watch Wall-E and not reuse plastic bags.
Ratatouille, it seems, earns its place in the Disney Pixar hall of fame by teaching it’s audience a vital message.
If you want to live well, you have to eat well.
Ratatouille, far from selling us any sort of diet, and certainly not advocating any kind of weight loss- spends nearly two hours showing us the life enhancing joy that comes with taking the time to appreciate your food.
Remy, our main character, is a rat who wants to be a chef. A wacky enough premise to make discerning movie watchers scoff, but stay with it. Through Remy’s eyes, the viewers experiences taste and food as if for the first time. He explains how it feels to discover a new taste, something which really, we don’t spend any time thinking about, we just do it.
Once Remy moves to Paris and begins his culinary journey, the foodie experience really steps up a notch. We see behind the scenes at a prestigious Parisian restaurant and witness the courage needed to succeed and stand out in a professional kitchen.
As well as this, we see lovingly animated food at every turn and committed restaurateurs taking the time to enjoy their meals.
Although the commitment and passion of professional chefs is not something I personally have- the film’s gentle admiration of a basic human act- eating, stirred something in me.
If I’m going to eat three times a day like a good human- I want to feel that love and excitement towards my food! Why should I be mindlessly shovelling energy giving mush into my body when there is all of the beauty shown in Ratatouille to enjoy?
And so, I have begun to inject the Ratatouille brand of wellness into my daily routine.
I went to the market and bought a big bowl of juicy tomatoes instead of my usual supermarket plastic sack of them. I bought a slightly more expensive than my usual wine and drank it slowly instead of putting a straw in the bottle. The next morning I brewed my coffee in a stovetop pot and enjoyed the smell (less so the burn I gave myself trying to pour it). I took my time choosing a tasty peach from the greengrocers on my way to work and looked forwards to eating it at lunch.
Alright, I’m getting a bit self indulgent here. But you get the gist. And let me tell you, it’s delightful. Taking the time to consider what you’re going to eat gave my day a cutesy, quaint little feel that is usually reserved to the animated films in our lives. Admittedly, once I get busy again, the call of Nescafe and microwave meals will be answered once more- but for now, meal times are a treat.
So, if this sounds more up your street than a powdered meal replacement shake made of Fava beans- first watch Ratatouille for inspiration. Then, have a look at my advice for Ratatouille wellness in practice.
How to inject some Ratatouille wellness into your life
· Visit Brasserie Zedel (or a similar excellent eating establishment)
Brasserie Zedel is a bustling, spotless French eatery underneath Piccadilly Circus. Service is fast and professional, the menu is in French and the food is exquisite (and CHEAP- the Prix Fixe menu is 3 courses for £15). Each dish has that Ratatouille magic of being deceptively simple and life changingly delicious. Last time I went I started with an avocado vinaigrette. Just an avocado, with dressing drizzled over. It was to die for. My handsome dining partner had a salad of beautiful tomatoes with basil dressing, similarly simple, equally amazing. Not only do you get the prim bustle of a Parisian restaurant here, the food would certainly make the cut at Chef Gusteau’s.
· Read a book by Nigel Slater
Reading about good food is a good hobby for times when you aren’t eating or cooking. Through good times and bad Remy the rat treasures his copy of Anyone Can Cook, by his idol Chef Gusteau. To find similar inspiration for eating well, I’d recommend any book by Nigel Slater- my favourite being Real Fast Food. Not only does Nigel lay out simple and effective recipes, sometimes in the form of a mere suggestion, his writing inspires me to enjoy the process of cooking something tasty. His writing is as smooth as butter and as enjoyable and evocative as any novel. For absolute beginners or seasoned cooks, Nigel is a helpful rat in your chef’s hat helping you eat your best.
· Buy some fresh bread
I love the scene in this movie when Colette show Linguine how to HEAR if bread is fresh. I’m not suggesting that you start molesting baguettes in Tesco in search of your dream sandwich BUT there’s something to be said for fresh bread. On the weekend, take yourself to a nice bakery (or Gregg’s at minimum) and get some of the good, hot, fluffy and fresh stuff. Put some coffee in the machine and enjoy the finest toast of the week. You deserve it hun.
· Keep a pot of fresh herbs in your kitchen
When Remy first gets his hands on Linguine’s tiny Parisian kitchen he uses limited ingredients to make an exquisite little omelette. His secret? Stealing fresh herbs from a nearby bush. Let me tell you, that fresh herbs can be one hell of a game changer. Snipping a few chives into scrambled eggs, or chopping some basil into a tin of tomatoes (‘Pasta sauce’ for the end of the month) elevates your everyday munch into a delight. Not to mention, if you succeed in keeping a potted herb plant alive in your kitchen you become filled with a warming smugness that lasts for weeks- or until the plant dies.
· Cook something from your childhood.
We are all capable of a Ratatouille style transporting moment. Think back to something you ate when you were little. Maybe someone special cooked it for you, maybe you ate it on a special day or on a special holiday. When you need feel a bit blah, take some time to find the recipe and treat yourself to some nostalgia.
In case you were wondering- my recipe for these occasions is my Granny’s Cherry and Almond Cake. There were slabs of this stuff to be found in my house on any given day of my childhood. My Granny lives on a farm in the middle of some woods, uses eggs from her hens and still cooks on a log burning stove. It’s a firm, beige cake dotted with kisses of glace cherries and scented with almonds. An ‘everyday cake’ to provide sustenance with a cup of tea in a huge mug for the men working on the farm. To eat a piece of this cake is to be at home in an instant.
There you have it, perhaps my favourite sort of ‘wellness’ as I have gathered it from a children’s film about a rat who wants to be a chef. I’m not even trying to sell you a product!
Look down at the sweating Pret-a –Manger sandwich you’ve had in your handbag for three days, you deserve better my friend.
Go forth, buy a baguette and be well,
Because Tout le monde peut cuisiner!