Food + Wine + Film = A Sense of Place
It is a busy world. In a race to get to the top, we rush through our weekdays and accelerate even faster through our weekends. The "time poverty" that we endure makes it easy to miss out on those key moments- when we can pause, relax, think, smile, reflect and appreciate a moment.
My work is heavily social in nature and I spend most of my days engaged in very "extroverted" activities, racing through a fast-paced corporate world where I can find myself speaking to a large audience or leading a stressful board room scrum. It is surprising to those who get to know me, therefore, to learn that I am an incredibly private person who craves solitude and re-charges through quiet reflection. For all of these reasons, I am mindful of what I do when I get off the hamster wheel. This time is precious, scarce and mine.
In recent years my passions for wine, food and film have converged and I am most content when I am able to synergize the three in a quiet evening at home. I think about these things... a lot. I research recipes, wine stories and film lore whenever I can and I love it when I can pull them together and weave a story. This blog is about a sense of place. A place where we can mix three wonderful passions into one- combining food, wine and film in a different kind of way. To make connections, to blend themes and ultimately create a narrative to enjoy whenever we can pause to appreciate a moment of serenity.
While there are countless films in the past few decades where food, wine and film converge, like Sideways or Under the Tuscan Sun, I am going way back in time for this blog to discuss East of Eden. Why choose a film from 1955 that I suspect very few of these readers have seen? Because its cultural relevance is enormous, its food & wine synergy delightful and its sense of place is undeniable.
Based on the novel by John Steinbeck, the film (directed by Elia Kazan) tells a story of a wayward son vying for the affection of his father against his brother- a retelling of Cain and Abel so to speak. This was James Dean's first major screen role and was the only film in which he starred that was released in his lifetime and that he viewed in its entirely. It has been acknowledged by the American Film Institute as one of the Best 400 Films of all time. Although set in Monteray, it was mostly shot on location in Mendocino County, California. This ill-fated story of the Trask family (and the Hamiltons) takes us through 3 generations who struggle with love, relationships and patriarchal attention. It explores themes of depravity and the struggle for acceptance, greatness, and the capacity for self-destruction and especially of guilt, freedom and forgiveness. In writing this novel and dedicating it to his sons, Steinbeck did an extraordinary job describing the sights, sounds, smells and colours of the Salinas Valley for their benefit. This is our backdrop- now onto the food and wine.
When considering what to pair with this film I would focus on the location of the movie's filming, as well as a particular reference in the story that shares a theme. When exploring the menus of most restaurants in Mendocino you quickly see some commonality in terms of fresh breads, vegetables and salads. (*Edit- Most historians note that James Dean's favourite food was Banana Salad). In the films we see Cal and Abra looking forward to an annual Azalea Blooming that would include a picnic. Combining these concepts gives us a mix of breads, cheeses and vegetables to explore while enjoying this movie- I'm thinking that a charcuterie board works best!
Ok probably my favourite part of this trilogy if I am being honest. I am diligent, and even a bit nerdy, in terms of selecting a wine that works. When we think about Mendocino wines, we typically think about Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. If our food choice for this film is charcuterie we could be safe with a Chardonnay but I am going to go with my old friend- Pinot Noir. With a mind of its own and incredibly fickle growing condition needs, good Pinot Noir has finesse and complexity and is influenced by soil, sun and wine maker touch solidify a sense of place in every bottle. An organic wine grower's haven, Mendocino gives us regions like the Redwood Valley AVA, where its elevation and cooler climate means a later harvest- all keys to developing rich and complex Pinot Noir. One of my absolute favourites from this region is Charlie Barra's Girasole. Profiling red currants, cola and tea this versatile wine pairs exceptionally well with charcuterie, as its bright acidity and earthy notes enhance the breads cheese and vegetables without overpowering.
All told this is a great place to begin a food, wine and film journey- where a classic film, simple food and a complex wine can come together and deliver a memorable evening. Steinbeck's book provides a backdrop of a simpler time when life was no more simple. Kazan's direction builds on these themes as we see the characters, with their flaws and imperfections, struggle to tackle issues that impact us all. This sets the stage where we can combine basic foods with an intricate wine for a pairing that inspires perspective and nourishes our peace and thankfulness.
Scott Estabrooks is a father of four, banker, foodie and wine entrepreneur. He spends most of his time in the Caribbean, at his home or in wine country.... any wine country.
Photo Credits: @kathyjollimore @scotestabrooks Chasingcleanair.com and https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40150194