Thursday, April 19, 2012

La Grande Bouffe –– Food, Sex and Excess in Film –– with Lobster

It’s hard to believe but Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe was made 40 years ago.  It was a movie the New York Times called "vulgar vaudeville on an epic scale...a mordant, chilling, hilarious dirty movie" that I saw as a kid and it had a profound effect on me –– one of both horror and fascination.


The premise of the French film was fairly simple and rather dark –– 4 friends get together for one last blast of a weekend to end their lives (for a variety of reasons) by eating themselves to death. All of the characters are named for the actors who play them (a bit disturbing at the beginning). 

Pilot Marcello Mastroianni is an aging roué who was burnt out and just going through the motions of being a “sex maniac”… even a collection of ladies of the night couldn’t stay his feelings of hopelessness and an emptiness that nothing could fill.  In the end, a classic Bugatti (designed by the genius Ettore Bugatti) that he had just gotten running again and the freezing cold was his suicide weapon… his appetites couldn’t kill him.

The chef, played by Ugo Tognazzi, created magnificent meals and show-stopping dishes –– only to have them fall short of satisfying him.  In the end he ate himself to death with a baroque masterpiece of goose in champagne, chicken in sherry and duck in port cooked separately then joined in a grand, towered paté presentation en brioche served before 2 dead guests in the freezer. 

The child-man judge, played by Phillippe Noiret,  still lives with his old wet nurse (whose ample bosom still holds a disturbing attraction). The Judge is the host of the Bacchanalia that is held on his unused family estate. The house is brilliantly eccentric–– the art direction is amazing, the kitchen to die for.

Television host and estranged father, played by Michel Piccoli, is the melancholy, piano-playing flatulent who dies loudly and painfully without dignity after stuffing himself to death.  

Andréa Ferréol

The extra guest at the party is played by the remarkable Andréa Ferréol, a prim schoolteacher who happens on the group quite by chance as she herds her class on a tour that includes a famous tree on the Judge’s property. We soon discover her appetites are extraordinary.  Hers was the first full-figure that I found attractive… she is nearly bursting out of her skin like a ripe fruit or a voluptuary in an old Italian masterpiece.  She eats and loves the men under the table as ‘twere. For her,  this is an opening and not a closing.

Watching it again, now that I am older and schooled in the ways of food, the menues themselves were rather remarkable.  I thought I would share my notes with you (after re-watching it on Youtube where you can see the whole film) about what was eaten over that weekend:

Blood sausage
Wild Boar
Venison from the Couves forest

Suckling pig, stuffed with chestnuts, smoked bacon, truffles (garnished with pears)

Guinea hens fed on juniper and grain
Ardennes roosters
Bresse chickens
Hindquarter of Charolais beef
Salt marsh lamb from Mont Saint-Michel

Tête de veau

                    Oysters with Perrier Jouet Champagne

Quail on skull skewers

Marrow bones
Crépes Suzette
Turkey fed with cognac, served with purées of apple and chestnut
Kidneys Bordelaise (we are told Roussel loved to have them with hot chocolate and cream, enjoying many courses at once)
Crayfish a la Mozart on a bed of rice a la Sully, with Sauce Aurora
Stuffed pullets/poularde
Charcoal grilled turkey on the amazing rotisserie in the kitchen

Tarte Niçoise – Pizza Provençal

Many pastas, including Marcello’s pasta with mushroom cream sauce

A huge cake

To a young person just starting out in life, the film was a cautionary parable that gave me quite a jolt. It asked the question, when you need more, more, more –– what is the hunger you are not satisfying?

I’ve mused many times about my “fork List’ of dishes to make the meal to end all meals but never have considered eating as a suicide technique.  Honestly, the best food and wine I ever had I didn’t always finish.

Why such dark musings, you may ask?

As many of you know, my days and nights of late have been completely absorbed by making a movie.  Not such a far stretch from my labors here at the blog, especially with a few food scenes involved in the film.  The idea of a "grande bouffe" in my film got me reflecting on that fascinating film.

In Tom Jones, the seduction starts with lobster …

                               and moves on to oysters

Food and film have been very cozy for quite some time, showing up with great frequency since Tom Jones had his tête a tête with the fulsome wench in the 1960’s British film Tom Jones).  Food and sex are often conflated.  Sensual dining often is a precursor to sex or a G-rated substitute for more carnal pursuits.

Molly O’Neill in a 1997 NYT articles said “Food has been both plot and motive. It has been both grand and sumptuous, poignant and dreary, sexy and scary…. Some pundits have suggested that food has become the sex and violence of our culture (perhaps thinking about the searing chili pepper in ''9 Weeks''). But Doris Weisberg, who teaches a course on food in film at New York University, says that cinema grub is like a big lump of mashed potatoes, a mutable prop for the director's vision.”

‘Weisberg sees the rise of food in film as a reflection of our current preoccupation with eating. A film can play on our love-hate relationship with food, the status conferred by food or the fear we have of it."

Stephanie and Miguel with the goose

The goose was provided by my friends at Shiltz Foods –– the smoked goose looked this good right out of the package –– amazing!

In our film, El Cielo es Azul, we had 2 big scenes involving food.  The first was a glorious goose (that I got from Shiltz Goose Farm), served by the enormously attractive Stephanie Sigman  (a Mexican actress best known for her striking portrayal of a beauty queen turned drug mule in Miss Bala this year) to Miguel Rodarte  (who did the hysterical Saving Private Perez last year) and Osvaldo Benavides  (star of many Mexican television series). Here the dinner is celebratory.  The 2 lovers eat well but not excessively, and Miguel’s character, the odd-man-out, stuffs himself into a food coma.

The second meal involves a character that has denied herself the pleasures of life for a long time.  She leaves her prison and goes for a last blast –– a pleasurable not destructive “Grande Bouffe” –– a lobster dinner and a night with an enamored younger man.  The woman is played by the radiant Barbara Sukowa who began her film career in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz in 1980, followed by Lola in 1981, and received further accolades in Margarethe von Trotta’s films Die bleierne Zeit in ‘81, and Rosa Luxemburg in ’86 and Vision in 2009 and a superlative actress.

For this we went to a seafood restaurant in the Hamptons for our location.  The poor owners didn’t know what hit them when 50-odd people showed up to film “just a table of 3 people”.  I think they were imagining something much, much smaller.  As we rearranged their place many, many times for coverage of the complex scene,  they went from amused to horrified.  Sadly, all they wanted was to see the end of us and thought the experience was horrid.  We wanted to help them put everything back in place (what we always do on locations) but they preferred to do it themselves. It’s probably the only time this has happened to me, so I felt badly about it.  Our other locations were thrilled with us and pleased at the way we left their spaces.

Throughout it all, the chef was professional.  He didn’t enjoy that his lovely food was destroyed for the scene, in a way it is rather mad, isn’t it?  Sometimes that’s what has to happen… in film it is not always about pretty.  The scene began after the meal had been going on for some time and the diners were misbehaving a bit –– the table reflected that happening. They decided to skip the “before” shot when things were lovely.

Barbara, Miguel and Osvaldo with my art director, Nadya stepping in as the waitress (when an actress was MIA)

                The tall Plateau de Fruit de Mer tiered serving dish

 The wines for the meal were provided by Mannie Berk at The Rare Wine Company.  We had a 2011 Bodegas Olivares Rosado (rose), 2010 Elio Perrone Barbera Tasmorcan (red), 2010 Feital Auratus (white) and a 2011 Elio Perrone Moscato d'Asti Sourgal (sweet & fizzy!).  Although we don’t let actors drink on set… we all tried them afterwards and loved what we had!


Lobster seems to be a theme that ran through Le Grande Bouffe, Tom Jones and El Cielo es Azul, so I thought that lobster should be my dish… and what’s not to love about lobster? 

I had loved the seafood plateau idea.  I thought of it the first time I read the scene to give height to the table and the effect was just what I had hoped.  I snagged the shell dish after the film wrapped and love the look of it (even if there was a warning on the dish not to eat food from it… I imagine a lobster just sitting in it wouldn’t be a bad thing?).

The lobster is cracked for ease of serving and then a classic mayonnaise is served with it… I really could drink the sauce… it is simple and addictive.  Couldn’t be simpler or more delicious, served with the lovely wines from The Rare Wine Company!

And finally, I have a thing about tossing bones or shells.  What a waste.  Anytime I have lobster I make lobster stock.  I toss all the shells in a pan, add white wine and water and a few herbs, lemon and shallots and cook for an hour or so.  I strain and reduce the liquid to 2 cups and you're ready to make my favorite Lobster Bisque!

Thomas Keller does a rendition of a Ferdinand Point recipe in the NYT this week called Bohemian Lobster that employs many of the same flavors.  I guess lobster is in the air in April.

Cold Lobster with a Remoulade Mayonnaise

1 or 2 lobsters, cooked and chilled and split

Remoulade Sauce

1 c mayonnaise
2 T Dijon mustard
1 T chopped gherkins
½ T chopped capers
t each of fresh chopped parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon
¼ t chopped anchovy or sea salt to taste
splash of worchestershire
juice of ½ a lemon

Combine all and serve with the lobster.  There will be leftovers… and that’s a good thing.
There is enough Remoulade for 2 lobsters easily.

  Lobster Bisque for 2 

1 shallot
1 1/2 T butter
1-2 T cognac
2 T flour

1/2 to 1 T tomato paste to taste
1 c heavy cream
2 c reduced lobster stock*
1 T sherry
pinches of fresh parsley, thyme, chives, chervil, tarragon... what ever you have on hand
pinch of cayenne and paprika
tiny pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
cut up lobster tail or shrimp (optional)

Saute the shallot in the butter over low heat.  When it is softened, add the cognac and allow to evaporate.  Add the flour and stir for a moment so it loses it's raw taste. Add the tomato paste, then slowly add cream and lobster stock and stir.  Add the sherry, chopped herbs, peppers and seasoning and stir.

Remove from heat and let steep for a few minutes.  At this point you can strain for a more elegant presentation.  Add the chunks of  lobster or shrimp if you wish and heat the soup gently to warm and/or cook the meat.  Serve, hot in small cups.

*take left-over lobster shells, put in a pan with chopped carrot, add a cup of white wine and water to cover and add fresh herbs, shallot and a squeeze of lemon.  Cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours over low heat. I had about 5 cups. Strain and reduce to about 2 cups.

*** PS. The film Le Grande Bouffe is R rated, there is nudity and it is rather racy... not just about food!

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday


Dino said...

Excellent, informative post.

Diane said...

Really interesting post about a film I have never heard of. I must have been in Africa when that first came out and I guess it never made it that far. I still can't watch it as my connection is too slow for YouTube so I will have to wait in suspense.
So much food for a weekend, wow I would never want to looks at food after that for at least a month.
The lobster though sounds delicious and that I could eat (if I could afford it) on a daily basis:) Keep well Diane

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Wow! You saw that movie as a kid? I can imagine it would have left a huge impression on you at a young age. I've never seen that movie but love the food scene from Tom Jones.

Gorgeous lobster salad and lobster bisque is one of my all-time favorites. We have a fish market that sells 1-pound lobsters very reasonably. I'd love to try both recipes!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...


Well, what can I say but that YOU ARE SO TALENTED and you have, from my perspective HERE, an AWESOME JOB!!!!!!!!!!!

WOooo, food and all the other LUSTS OF LIFE combined together? MADNESS, but incredibly fascinating to study as you greatly explore the HISTORY. Deana, you always intrigue me with your knowledge and ANGLE from which you present to us, wonderful recipes.

THANK YOU AS WELL, for visiting me and I so love your story about Lillian GISH! Now that is how I want to be and remain, if I am so fortunate to be accorded TIME on this earth to love in a crusty old shell but with a young heart.


Claudia said...

I have never seen the movie but its theme intrigues. I always put food in my plays. It's just such a part of life and reveals character. I am off to Maine to live on lobster for a week. I never do anything but eat the lobster plain - it just shines.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Okay, just your description of the story of four friends eating themselves to death has sparked a bizarre fascination. Is this all about the dark side of foodiness, perhaps? By comparison, I find your lobster a simply elegant delight.

Tasty Trix said...

Ha, could anything be more French than that film??? I need to see it asap. I am glad it didn't give you any ideas, ahem! And I hope it goes without saying that you MUST tell us when the film you've been working on comes out.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I adore lobster and read this with fascination.I really must get La Grand Bouffe out, there is a restaurant here in Sydney with that very name! :)

Barbara said...

Oh those Italian men! What a hoot. (Was watching Valentino last night and they made mention of La Dolce Vita, which to me epitomizes the 50's) I've GOT to watch these two movies. Love the first photo, it made me laugh out loud.
Such fun to read about food-based movies, all so very sexy, really. I always think of Who's Killing the Great Chefs of Europe (certainly not a dark film by any stretch, or sexy) and the food scenes where Robert Morely WAS eating himself to death.

Sounds like you had fun on location, loved the photos. They were lucky to get you.
My mother made a great remoulade sauce...not MY favorite, but I sure have made it a lot for my family. Your recipes are lovely. I've always wanted to make lobster bisque. And yes, we should all save the shells...stick them in the freezer until you have enough to make a nice stock.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Good morning Deana!

I so loved your comment to me on my post. THANK YOU and yes, I really enjoy making collages and NOW, PICNIK, my free source for making them is NO LONGER! A new Google + feature is replacing it and I am not sure if I have the courage today to tackle the changes!!!

Thanks again my friend for your beautiful words of kindness. HAVE A PEACEFUL DAY! Anita

Linda said... always I feel I have learned so much after visiting you....wonderful post. I have not seen the film so later I am off to You Tube to check it out...
Thanks so much for all you do...Visiting your blog is like a gift.
The lobster looks amazing as well as the bisque...

Fresh Local and Best said...

I should never read your blog before dinner, now I'm not satisfied with what I am serving. :) Oh the pictures of the goose and lobster, they are the epitome of luxury!

If there is one way to die, it would be following an epic meal. What an interest premise to a movie.

Lazaro Cooks said...

You are making lobster look good. Now, you probably expect me to say something about that Mexican actress but I will hold off...=)

That is me in one of those scenes..."Always clowning while I work."

Love it.

El said...

Ah yes, there is nothing like the portrayal of film, particularly in European film. The lobster idea is fantastic!

Karena said...

Deanna this post was so enlightening as I have not seen the film I amazed that you are making one & am excited to hear even more.

That said I am craving lobster!

I am featuring friend, Designer and Paper Artist Anita Rivera from Castle Crowns and Cottages on my site! She is amazing!

Art by Karena

Ken Albala said...

I can't believe I've never seen this film. Heard a lot about it. ANd now I guess I have to. Right now! TKS>

Faith said...

This post was a complete intrigue, from start to finish. I've never seen that film, but food in movies is always a lure for me so now I'm dying to.

Lobster was the perfect choice...right down to the bisque, everything looks perfect.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting to learn about this film, and the lobsters look awesome! Loving the lobster bisque, yum!

LP @dishclips said...

Looks great! It's nice how you have incorporated the lobster shells. It's really getting the most out of your lobster. Thanks for sharing!