Michael Voltaggio, best known for his season 6 “Top Chef” win and his popular West Hollywood restaurants ink and ink.sack, was present for a little Q and A with audiences at the LA Film Festival. Moderated by KCRW’s Good Food host Evan Kleinman, foodies and fans alike came to view Voltaggio’s Artist in Residence movie pick, Dinner Rush (2000) and stayed to listen as the two chefs chatted about the film, and how its realistic depiction of restaurant “family life” pertained to their real working lives.
Voltaggio talked about the thrill and sometimes challenge of cooking for his guests and being able to have the “opportunity to either ruin or make someone’s day.” He talked about going out of his way to make sure that people with certain dietary restrictions get to have the same experience as a regular customer. The strangest request in one of his restaurants came when an elderly woman brought her own menu into the restaurant and asked him to make custom dishes for her and her six guests. The request was so bizarre, he was compelled to oblige her!
Showcased downtown at L.A. Live’s Regal Cinemas, the (somewhat dated) culinary-mob-dramedy takes place at a trendy Tribeca restaurant and throughout the course of the evening we see how the guests’ and employees’ lives are forever changed. The film cleverly touches on familiar themes; family, ambition, sacrifice, love and art. An inspiring film for Voltaggio, who first viewed it at the start of his career (15 years ago), he talked about the importance of having a great sous chef to have your back in the kitchen. In the movie, the ambitious Gordon Ramsey-dictator-like head chef is at odds with his #2 man for most of the flick. They do manage to put their differences aside for one pivotal moment, one of my favorite scenes in the film.
90% of the movie takes place within the walls of the restaurant over the course of one single shift. We are cleverly re-introduced to all the different types of “characters” who dine out on any given night; The notorious food critic, drooling foodies, the ecstatic couple excited to finally have gotten reservations, the pretentious food snob and in the case of this story, two Mafioso brothers who try to pressure their way into owning a stake in the popular restaurant. Throw in some comedy, lust, an estranged father-son relationship, and an unexpected murder and you’ve got yourself a movie!
Though important to the plot, the first and last scenes of the movie were a bit disjointed for me (they felt more like an episode of the Sopranos). Still the themes were nicely interwoven and I felt that the director did a clever job in making the restaurant feel like a character all its own.
Dinner rush definitely makes me want to pay a little closer attention to all the behind-the-scene kitchen whisperings during my next dinner outing!
Click here to listen to the full Q and A with Michael Voltaggio.