kitchen stories

Five stories that film kitchens tell

kitchen stories

In 2013 the film Kitchen Stories was released. In this Norwegian comedy scientists observe 24/7 the behavior of single men in their private kitchen. The film is set in the kitchen of one of the single men, a beautiful minimalistic Scandinavian wooden kitchen interior. The observer sits on an umpire chair in the corner of kitchen, a hilarious image.

As with food in film, kitchen sets in film tell the story of the film in their own way. For instance, the kitchen in Kitchen Stories tells something about the time period – the fifties, about Scandinavian style – wood and simplicity and it reflects the loneliness of the owner Isak Bjørvik.

I collected five different types of film kitchens, all telling different stories.
Kitchen Rosemarys Baby
The Harmonic Home Kitchen in Rosemary's Baby

1 the harmonic home kitchen

There are several blogs and lists on the internet about movie kitchens, even one specifically about Meryl Streep in kitchens. They tend to have their focus on classic American large home kitchens. This is a reflection of Hollywoods preconception of ideal American family life: the kitchen is neat and harmonic, a set for the whole family to meet and eat in the middle of the kitchen. This set is ideal for film, since a lot of action (groceries, cooking, eating and cleaning) can be combined with intimate family dialogues. I call this a ‘Harmonic Home Kitchen’; it is in such a painfully neat harmony: this must be a masquerade for something rotten going on. 

2 the italian mama kitchen

The American-Italians however have great kitchens. Martin Scorsese’s family alone is a representative for this kitchen. Take a look at the one room apartment of Good Fellas in which Scorseses father cooks his infamous spaghetti meatballs. That’s not a kitchen, it’s simply a stove in a room. Scorseses’ mother Catherine shows how to make 'the sauce' in her kitchen in the documentary Italianamerican. Just check the wallpaper in that super small kitchen.

Moonstruck also features an Italian mama in the perfect Italian Home Kitchen; you feel at home immediately. The complete Italian-American family, young and old, gathers in this mama-is-the-boss setting to argue in typical Italian style. Chatting away while preparing and devouring food. Can you imagine anything more homelike than that?
Kitchen Julia Child
Julia Child in her trophy kitchen, as seen in Julie&Julia

3 the trophy kitchen

Close to the Harmonic Home Kitchen is the kitchen of Julia Child. You can see her kitchen being decorated at the end of the film Julie&Julia, it is a filmset replica of the actual kitchen Paul Child built. And the actual kitchen has been rebuilt in the American History Museum, also visible at the end of the film. Although the kitchen is very homelike, it is not a Harmonic Home Kitchen or Italian Home Kitchen. This is much more a laboratory, impressing with loads of copper pans and every (pre-sixties) kitchen utensil ever invented. All that stuff is simply too distracting for a good family talk and serves only one thing: good cooking.
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Julia Childs kitchen reminded me of the extensive kitchen in Robert Altmans Gosford Park, played out at an English estate in the 1930s, an era when servants were still quite common. The Gosford Park kitchen is also full of copper pans and utensils, but in those days the food was prepared by several cooks and served a large group dinner guests. Contrary to Julie&Julia, the kitchen here is a vibrant meeting place for all the servants, gossiping about who the murderer could be. Mixing professional with personal life, this kitchen was actually the servants living room, with the same vibe as the Italian Home Kitchen.
Kitchen Mr and Mrs Smith
The trophy kitchen in Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Click on the image for the video
The recent modern kitchens in film are often trophy kitchens: they serve only to shock and awe your guests - actual cooking hardly takes place. The kitchen in Mr. and Mrs. Smith is probably the most hilarious Trophy Kitchen. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are contract killers, so their kitchen drawers do not only contain the regular cooking knives, but also guns of different caliber. Not much cooking here either, but the kitchen fight between them is delicious!
Kitchen Blade Runner
Cooking cave kitchen in Blade Runner (original)

4 the cooking cave

Film kitchens usually sparkle light, with high ceilings, windows and light materials. But sometimes the story just need a dark set in a film: the cooking cave. The sci-fi film Blade Runner 2049 has a beautiful narrow dark kitchen, referring to the dark Mayan temple like interior of the famous Ennis Brown House, used in the original film. The kitchen perfectly reflects the film noir atmosphere of the film.
The more classic cooking cave is the poor man’s kitchen in Babette’s Feast. Babette is a French cook in a poor and religious small village. The kitchen consists of a stone sink, a wooden chop board and a classic fire stove. It is a dark and meager place, accentuating the contrast with the luxurious dinner Babette cooks in that kitchen. Notice that hardly anyone laughs in a cooking cave, there’s serious business going on here.

5 the automated kitchen

Kitchen Sleeper Woody Allen 2
The automated kitchen in Woody Allens Sleeper
My favorite kitchen is the automated, electric kitchen. All that fancy electric stuff to our comfort is always doomed to fail. The story is always the same: at first the novelty works perfect, but then it goes berserk, causing all kinds of problems. This theme was already played out by – who else - Buster Keaton in The Electric House. The kitchen is connected to the dining room by means of a mini train. The cook puts the food in a little train wagon which drives to the dining room. It all goes well until accidentally, the rail is disconnected and all the food falls into the lap of a woman.
The kitchen in Woody Allen’s sci-fi comedy Sleeper resembles more a spaceship control room than a food production room. But even making instant pudding – how hard can that be – turns out bad: it becomes giant brown ball.
Kitchen Tati Mon Oncle
Jacques Tati is sceptical about the automated kitchen in Mon Oncle
(click on image for video)
The white sixties kitchen in Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle is a classic and humorous protest against modernism. Tati shows all the inconsistencies and impracticality of modern (kitchen) design. Everything buzzes, is automated, preheated and plastic, but what is it really good for? This still is a valid question in the modern day luxury kitchen. 
So what kitchen do you prefer? Dark, social, automated, family like or is it a trophy? Whatever it is, now you know what film can best be played out in your own kitchen.
Wies Sanders, 12. March 2019
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