Written and Directed by: Joseph Levy
Featuring: Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz
Spinning Plates, the new documentary by writer/director Joseph Levy, is the story of three incredibly varied restaurants and their owners. The restaurants could not be more different in style and cuisine. We have the Michelin three-star-rated Alinea in Chicago, the small Tuscon Mexican restaurant named La Cocina de Gabby and the 150-year-old Breitbach's Country Dining in Balltown, Iowa. But Levy was able to tell each of these unique establishments' stories while still connecting them on some of our most basic, most important levels: family, food and love.
La Cocina de Gabby's story is one that is far too familiar to anyone who has any knowledge of the food industry. It is a family-run business trying to create a name for itself and struggling to bring in enough customers to just pay the bills. The passion and dedication of the owner and his wife are unwavering, and their story is told through the lens of a family on the brink of losing everything — their home, their income and their restaurant.
Breitbach's Country Dining has been a staple in its area for 150 years. The small town of Balltown, Iowa, was built up around this family-owned establishment. Its story is one of the community that sees this restaurant as the most important building and business in its area and when tragedy strikes in the form of not one but two fires, there is nothing for everyone to do but come together to rebuild and begin again. Because for Balltown, Breitbach's Country Dining is not just a business; it defines the community in a way that could never be replicated.
Alinea's story is probably the least "home grown" in its beginnings, allowing the audience to be more detached at the start. The ascendance of Alinea to the place it holds today as the seventh best restaurant in the world did not seem to meld with the other two locations' histories of hardship and loss. But as Alinea's head chef Grant Achatz tells his story and relays what Alinea represents, it all begins to fall into place. Nothing, not even a life-threatening setback, could stop Achatz's relentless passion and devotion to creating something that he believed in 100%.
Many who have not seen Spinning Plates might group it with the genre of TV shows and movies colloquially termed "food porn." But this film transcends those tropes and tells a story of hard work and hope, even through the roughest of setbacks. Winner of the Austin Film Festival's Documentary Feature Audience Award, Spinning Plates is, more than anything else, a story of people — one told through the lens of the restaurant industry, but one that also touches on subjects that everyone, foodie or not, can relate to.
This reminds me of "Hell's Kitchen" - one of my favorite reality shows.
"Another great thing about being 70,000 light years away from the nearest Starfleet vessel is that once we finally get back to Earth, we can makeup bullshit stories. Off the top of my head: 'We met Amelia Earhart,' 'We singlehandedly eliminated most of the Borg fleet' or 'Paris and I turned into giant pink lizards and mated.'"