by writer/director Joseph Levy
I saw magic for the first time when I was 10. Not the sleight of hand found at a child’s birthday party with levitating scarves and disappearing rabbits and the sort. No… this was honest-to-goodness magic, and it happened one day in my family kitchen when I set out to make coq au vin. Why was I making coq au vin when I was 10? Well, my father was a chemist and he used to bring home chemicals with which we’d do science experiments. But there’s only so many times you can make things spontaneously combust before looking for new worlds to conquer, and one day I found that world by pouring a bottle of wine over a chicken and some aromatics and letting it all cook slowly.
Decades later, I vividly remember the kitchen’s Provençal fragrance from that day. I also remember the excitement as dinnertime approached. The nice plates were brought out. There was a little more excitement as the family assembled around the table that night. And finally the moment of truth arrived, and – TRIUMPH! (At least for a 10-year-old who’d never cooked French food before.)
I know what I made that night was good, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have won any culinary competitions. And truthfully, that doesn’t matter at all. I set out on a culinary odyssey that day, and what I discovered at the end of my journey was that the food I served that night was not only dinner… it was thrilling. It was exotic. It was the pride of my parents – my father’s admiration and my mother’s love. It was a memory that I would keep for the rest of my life. All that and a plate of chicken.
I now realize that that evening was quite possibly the beginning of my love affair with food, and the start of an awareness of its potentially powerful meaning. A simple meal can be so charged with emotion and meaning. Even among those who proclaim they only ‘eat-to-live,’ I’ve never found one who didn’t hold dear the memory of a few special meals, like a first date with one’s wife, or a childhood Thanksgiving at a grandmother’s table, or, as was mine, a final interaction with one’s father.
After several decades of making my own memories and connections to food, I became very interested in some of the amazing stories that others brought to the table, particularly those who live their lives in restaurant kitchens. Ultimately, I came across a few so extraordinary, I felt they needed to be told.
Spinning Plates is the story of three restaurateurs for whom food could not have more meaning. Found within the plates they serve are stories of survival, legacy, family and mortality. Each of their stories is, at times, both heart-breaking and life-affirming, and I believe they together represent a spectrum of life experience within which each of our own narratives can be found. In my humble opinion, these stories represent the finest triumphs of the human condition. All that in a plate of chicken.