Chef du Cinema: Cinema Paradiso

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Cinema Paradiso posterI don't remember when I first watched Cinema Paradiso but the memory of that loving embrace of a sentimental story propelled me to finally attend a Chef du Cinema class with Austin Film Society member and friend Ron Deutsch. The movie washed over me again just like the warm eggplant fritters served on a swirl of tangy marinara that kicked off the meal, along with a few sips of tempranillo from the Central Market Cooking School stash.

As Ron disclaimed before we walked in the door, the setting isn't a good one for anyone who values the darkened, silent theatrical experience but if you are willing to compromise for the addition of a cooking demonstration, you will be rewarded with a lovely meal while you enjoy the movie.

I had forgotten my favorite part of the film -- the movie reel of kisses and sexy bits. What an astonishingly wonderful detail of a time in movie history that was gone years before I was even born. It's amazing how our history is remembered by movies and food.

Ron's program notes are extensive on both the history of the film and the food. His travels to Italy had inspired the menu, and his meticulous research leaves me wondering how many hours of prep he spends on these monthly classes (he posts recipes so you can make your own "dinner and a movie" night).

I picked up some tips to use in the kitchen. I've been skeptical about the idea that citrus "cooks" seafood, a la ceviche, but I learned that it is indeed a good way to prep fresh fish. The citrus-marinated swordfish over arugula with orange slices (including a special knife technique for juicy segments) was my favorite course. I've been on a restricted diet all week so it matched my eating goals.

Mussels with LinguineI fell off the no-grain part of my restricted diet with linguine, but the mussels were tender and soaking in a light wine and tomato sauce with the consistency of chunky salsa. Ron goes into some detail about marinara sauce in his notes, which I thought was referring to this sauce, but between the tomatoes with the mussels and the marinara under the fritters, the question of "marinara" gives me a wonderful jumping-off point for my own versions of the recipes. I'm happy to have walked away with two dishes I definitely want to make again and a few cooking tips while revisiting a film that reminds me why I work in the film biz.

I'd recommend choosing your Chef du Cinema experience for a movie that you love, and you'll enjoy a fun evening with fellow movie lovers and foodies. There is usually a discount for Austin Film Society members to sweeten the deal.