Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Food by which to butcher people

June 3

This past weekend I rewatched American Psycho, starring Christian Bale as a Wall Street hotshot with bloodlust. It’s supposed to take place in the 1980s, but the movie was made in 2000, and I think that’s reflected in what the people eat.
Oh, food and drink have a big role to play in American Psycho, and I’ll detail it for you now.
The movie opens in a restaurant, and the servers announce the day’s specials, which to me seem very 1999-2000, except that nothing is garnished with chervil, and nearly everything in New York was garnished with chervil in 1999-2000:
The specials were:
Squid ravioli in a lemon grass broth with goat cheese profiteroles
Arugula Caesar salad
Swordfish meat loaf with onion marmalade
Rare roasted partridge breast in raspberry coulis with a sorrel timbale
Grilled free-range rabbit with herb french fries
Now, I don’t think goat cheese profiteroles would go particularly well with squid, but I’ve seen worse combinations. I’ve got no problem with the salad. Swordfish meat loaf is pretentious, but it would probably taste good.
The partridge dish, I must admit, just sounds completely disgusting, but I think sorrel is a particularly challenging herb to work with, and I’d like my partridge at least medium-rare.
If free-range rabbit existed, and I suppose it might somewhere, I think herb french fries would be a terrific accompaniment for it.
Later, in a club, the Bale character, Patrick Bateman, orders a Stoly on the rocks and the bartender charges him $25 for it. He says, although she can’t hear it because she’s at the other end of the bar: “You’re a f***ing ugly b**ch. I want to stab you to death, then play around with your blood,” which is a bit harsh, but $25 for Stoly on the rocks?
Later he takes his drugged-out date to what he claims is D'Orsia, a mythical restaurant that is the hottest ticket in town in American Psycho world, and she can’t tell the difference because of the drugs.
He orders for her: Peanut butter soup with smoked duck and mashed squash (“New York Matinee called it a ‘playful but mysterious little dish.’ You’ll love it,” he says) followed by red snapper with violets and pine nuts.
The soup actually sounds like a variation on Ghana’s national dish, Nkatenkwan, although that’s made with chicken. I personally don’t particularly want violets with my snapper, but I don't think they’d get in the way, and pine nuts would be good with snapper.
The next day, at some sort of meeting, a character by the name of Paul Allen (played by Jared Leto) says d’Orsia has “great sea urchin ceviche.”
To me, turning sea urchin into ceviche is a crime, and in fact Patrick Bateman later hacks Paul Allen to death with an axe, but I believe it’s because Paul has much nicer business cards than Patrick does. And because Patrick’s a howling-crazy psychopath.
Before murdering Paul, Patrick and he have dinner at a fake place called Texarkana.
Paul is an obnoxious diner, and is outraged that the restaurant is out of its cilantro crawfish gumbo, which Paul says is “the only excuse one could have for being in this restaurant, which is, by the way, almost completely empty.”
What a bastard. But cilantro crawfish gumbo could be good.
Patrick orders a J&B straight and a Corona, together.
Paul orders a double Absolut Martini.
To soothe Paul, Patrick says the mud soup and charcoal arugula are “outrageous here,” and he means it in a good way. Looking at the menu, he says, “I see they’ve omitted the pork loin with lime jell-o.”
Mud soup, well, no, there's nothing good to say about that, or charcoal arugula. But pork loin is often served with a sweet component, the added acid of lime jell-o could be tasty, if executed well.
The next day, or maybe two days later, while Patrick is doing his morning crunches and a snuff video The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [see comment #8 below] is playing on his TV (a woman is screaming pretty much constantly), there’s a closeup of a plate of sliced kiwifruit and I’m pretty sure red currants and maybe a fig half, although it might be an orchid garnish, next to a glass of sparkling water.
He provides a “very fine Chardonnay” for his prostitutes to drink — and offers them what sounds like Garda truffles, which might be actual fungi, not chocolates, since Garda is a town in Italy’s Veneto region where truffles do, in fact, grow — before brutalizing them.
He offers his assistant pre-dinner sorbet in his apartment before deciding not to kill her. She eats it out of the carton and he has her put the spoon back in the carton, rather than on his glass coffee table.
He has lunch with a detective, played by Willem Dafoe, at Smith & Wollensky, which his assistant calls Smith & Wollensky’s.
They eat steak, over which Patrick dumps way too much salt, attempting to mimic the cop I think, and drink water, although Patrick also drinks clear liquid from a rocks glass. Probably vodka.
Next, after murdering a friend and a prostitute, we see Bateman having dessert with his fiancée in a large but nice restaurant, but with paper tablecloths on which he draws, with crayons provided by the restaurant, a picture of the murdered prostitute, a chainsaw in her back. On his plate is an untouched, overgarnished chocolate dessert (shards of fruit — pear maybe — a dab of whipped cream, topped with raspberry and a mint sprig), the plate is dusted with powdered sugar, except for an outline of a knife and fork.
I’m not sure what it all means, but whoever picked the food — either Bret Easton Ellis, who wrote the book, or Mary Harron, who wrote the screenplay — definitely put some thought into it.


braingirl said...

You'll love the book -- even more outrageous when it comes to the crazy pretentiouness of NYC in the 80s. At one point, he has the restaurant serve his date a urinal cake instead of dessert. She is, of course, high and doesn't get it while he goes on about what a great dessert it is.

Paul A. said...

This is great. Do more movies!

Charcoal arugula could be good if it's anything like Ferran Adria's vegetables seasoned with charcoal-flavored sunflower oil: grilled taste without any grilling.

Bret Thorn said...

Paul, is that sort of like Liquid Smoke?
I’m not often struck by the food in movies in the way I was with American Psycho, but I’ll keep my eyes out and feature more of them if I can.
I’m glad you liked this one.

maura said...

yeah, this is terrific. maybe do bonfire of the vanities next? i remember the food in the book being described in detail, although i don't remember how important it was to the movie...

Urmston said...

Saying that the menu seems "very 1999-2000" to you is not only extremely pretentious, it's also very wrong. The vast majority of the dishes you mentioned are included in the book (published in 1991) and therefore represent the ideas of Bret Easton Ellis a decade earlier and not the people involved in making the film.

Additionally, the years during which this film was being made coincide with the height of the "Give Swordfish a Break" campaign during which no reputable chef, specifically on the East Coast and in particular New York City, ever used swordfish in any one of their dishes. I can't be certain that none of the other dishes were in vogue around this time, but swordfish meatloaf is, once again, certainly not "very 1999-2000."

Bret Thorn said...

Thanks Urmston. It’s interesting that the food fads of the late 1980s had circled back and were trendy once again in 1999-2000, when I lived in New York and was eating at pretentious fine-dining restaurants. Trust me, the food in American Psycho was just slightly more extreme than what some restaurants were offering at that time (although missing chervil).
As for the swordfish issue, was that dish in the book, too, or do you think maybe Mary Harron was making a statement about the craven nature of the characters and the food they were eating?

dre said...

haha i like this description. i agree on the rare roast partridge.but i think the swordfish meatloaf would cook way too fast and be dry as hell. READ the BOOK, you'll love it. also he orders 2 stolis on the rocks, not 1. which would make them 12.50 apiece. Back in the 80s they didnt have frosted bottle premiums like Grey Goose and Belvedere, so back then Stoli was considered to be the top shelf vodka. So 12.50 at a club in manhattan is not that ridiculous.

S.H. Kingston said...

The "snuff" film is actually The Texas Chainsaw Massacre...

Bret Thorn said...

Ah, good to know. Thanks S.H.. Kingston.

Jürgen De Neve said...

I hate to rain on your parade braingirl but when Bateman has this urinal cake served to his date (who is his fiancee), she isn't high at all. The fact that she doesn't dare to say it tastes awful is because it came in a Godiva box, and that's what this book is all about, obsessive lifestyles based on brands as status symbols.
I do have to agree with you, this book is a masterpiece!

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old article, but I thought you might like to have this cleared up for you.
This is a reference to the book. The pretentious-sounding menu choices here are meant to be completely disgusting combinations that only sound interesting to a layman. The book does the same thing with fashion. The combinations in suits that the characters are described to wear are actually horrific if you know what the items really look like.

This can't translate to the movie, of course. So here we have stuff like these restaurant intro.

emzegrit said...

Hi. I don't think there is a dish like "Squid ravioli in a lemon grass broth with goat cheese profiteroles" in the movie. There are two waiters speaking in that very first scene. One of them says: "Squid ravioli in a lemon grass broth."

And then we hear the end of the sentence of the second waiter: "...with goat cheese profiteroles."

Bret Thorn said...

Ah, so it could be two dishes. I guess I'll have to watch the movie again.