Paul Lacoste’s documentary STEP UP TO THE PLATE (ENTRE LES BRAS, FRANCE) follows a family of chefs across summer, autumn, winter and spring. As the seasons change, so do their anxieties and priorities. Despite running a successful business and having an unending list of new projects to implement, Michel – founder of the Bras Brand – is bothered by the prospect of retirement. Unsure how he will fare when he is no longer in charge of the family’s three-star restaurant, he says, “that would be the end of me.”
The film’s overt focus is the relationship – in and out of the kitchen – between Michel and his son Sébastien. Despite the disagreements between both men, it is obvious that Michel will eventually hand over the business to his son. Initially, Sébastien appears bossy and impatient, hardly yielding to his father’s suggestions for the business, but it becomes obvious that Michel himself is no pushover, especially in the scenes where his son seeks his opinion on yet another culinary invention. Like Anton Ego, the food critic from the movie RATATOUILLE, Michel makes a big fuss out of the tasting sessions, but Sébastien reminds him that “food is for eating.”
Food is also to be appreciated, as Lacoste shows. As each dish is made, the intensity of the effort is obvious, but Lacoste deemphasises the chef and zooms in on the dish, involving the audience in its making and encouraging interest in how it might taste. This occurs best in the opening scene, where Michel is making his most famous recipe, “The Gargouillou“. With the plate as his canvas, dashes of colourful ingredients are tossed on it in sequence, conjuring an enthralling culinary portrait. We don’t see Michel, but we hear him as he names each condiment that lands on the plate.
Lacoste himself uses the evolving landscape as his palette for depicting the Bras: long walks in open fields and watching the sunset become meditative moments for both father and son as they bond over their love for making food. We see Michel learning how to cook from his mother, and Sébastien is joined in the kitchen by his nine-year old son, Alban. The Bras story is made interesting in Lacoste’s hands, and he wraps it up with three Bras generations in the kitchen. With a smile on his face, Sébastien watches Alban helping Michel at the kitchen counter. Their hopes and dreams for the restaurant are firmly in place and the generations shift smoothly on course, with no fear of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Like a good and savoury dish, ENTRE LES BRAS leaves you sated.