Vino Vérité Presents: 42 Grams, with Jack C. Newell
FilmScene — Sunday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m.
Fans of chef-focused, “food porn” documentaries like Chef’s Table or Anthony Bourdain’s The Mind of a Chef will enjoy 42 Grams, a somewhat gritty documentary following a Chicago chef’s journey from underground food to a critically acclaimed restaurant. The documentary is showing at FilmScene Sunday, Feb. 11 as part of the Vino Vérité series, which will include a Q&A with director/producer Jack C. Newell, as well as wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres.
Tickets run $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers for the event, which is presented by FilmScene, Bread Garden Market and Little Village.
At the beginning of the film, Jake Bickelhaupt and his wife, Alexa, are working in the tight quarters of their apartment, running an underground restaurant called Sous Rising. The film has a few audio and visual issues here — some segments of the dialogue were hard to hear and the camera person seemed to struggle in the somewhat claustrophobic confines of the tiny kitchen. But that grittiness pairs well with the scenes of Jake mopping the floors and cleaning the bathroom ahead of guests’ arrival and Alexa clearing plates from tables and leaving them to soak in a bedroom during 15-course meals.
The film then follows the pair as they remodel a nearby space (formerly a Chester’s Chicken joint) to create 42 Grams, a restaurant that (SPOILERS!) will go on to receive two Michelin stars in its first year (filmed in an emotional scene as Jake received the phone call).
Like other foodie documentaries, this one has shots of drool-worthy dishes and scenes in which the chef lays out his visionary menu planning and overarching chef philosophy. But unlike many, it starts out before the chef has earned his stars, before he even has a restaurant, which makes the people in front of the camera seem less mythic and more human.
The documentary also has a no-holds-barred take on portraying Jake’s temper, which leads to constant issues maintaining staff and puts obvious strains on the couple’s marriage. Admittedly, this is a pleasant change from the fawning portrayals of chefs that seem to forgive or excuse the abuses suffered by others as just part of the chef’s genius that must be embraced in order to give him (and it’s usually a him) room to create. It also calls up emotions that, for me, are usually absent from food documentaries. The chef is the main focus, yes, but he’s not exactly a protagonist that I enjoyed rooting for. My frustration with his temper turned watching this documentary into a very different, and possibly more illuminating experience, than my usual escapist, foodie fare.
Interestingly, the plate shots in 42 Grams, which in other chef documentaries are often left pristine and untouched, include a time-lapse of some unseen person gradually devouring the food and leaving a messy, empty plate — something that seemed to mirror the overall message of the film as we, the audience, watch the all-consuming obsession of a culinary virtuoso gradually devour everything, destroying a marriage and ultimately leading to the collapse of the restaurant itself.
Ultimately, this is a film that has lodged itself in my head – it’s been over a month since I first watched it and it is still something that I find myself thinking about, wondering about what we as a society decide to celebrate and the tradeoffs we make to allow genius to flourish. And occasionally wishing 42 Grams was still around so I could get a taste of some of the dishes served.