I absolutely adore all kinds of food and cooking. I’ve cooked for my entire life; most of my family is intimidatingly good at least one cooking discipline. I’ve had the fortune to make friends that have devoted their lives and careers to culinary arts – they’re the type of person that would drive a car held-together with duct tape so that they would have money left over to buy winter black truffles. I consider myself fairly invested in the culinary world, and I love any opportunity to learn more about aspects of it that I might be ignorant of.
It seems to me that Cooked is a love letter to culinary arts. The beautiful cinematography of the food indicates the vibrancy of the traditions, but shots that do not focus on the food itself are still gorgeous. Particularly when the camera is filming someone performing their craft, the shots are framed in a way that makes movement look almost spiritually significant. Paired with insightful narration and a lovely soundtrack that does not overpower the visual imagery, Cooked would be an interesting viewing experience even without the content.
Generally, scientific explanations are not all that interesting to me. I have experience with brewing mead, and even when I do that I have a partner do all of the hydrometer calculations, as I prefer the physical work and artistic consideration of flavor. However, as the science is presented in Cooked, the scientific aspects of food are more of a way to understand the art of food rather than the end goal of cooking. Most of the scientific knowledge and technique is shown with metaphors that make it intriguing to the non-scientific viewer.
It considers not only the practical and scientific aspects of food, but also the deep historical and cultural background that comes attached to it. The consideration of bread as a cultural signifier of famine or surplus is still persistent even in a largely post-scarcity culture like America. We might have biologically adapted to cooking, but our cultures are so intertwined with our food that it’s almost impossible to consider them independently. The Greeks believed in the principle of philoxenia, which means “love of the stranger” and was typically expressed through the procurement of wine and food for anyone who came to their doors. In the beginning of the Odyssey, this gesture was extended to Odysseus, and the introduction of his character is almost impossible to understand without this food-centric gesture. One traditional Chinese greeting is “你吃了吗?”, which means literally “have you eaten yet?” and reveals how the food culture and occasional scarcity of food in China shapes their interactions.
Overall, Cooked is an absolutely worthwhile watch, yet I wonder if some of the technical details overpower the sections that are meant to showcase the soul of the food and the passion that goes into making it.