Cooking History: A lesson you won't soon forget.
In Review

Cooking History

Directed by Péter Kerekes
Czech Republic, 2009, 88 min.
Never go to war on an empty stomach. This is life or death, depending if the bread is poisoned. The Nazis are defeated even without Julia Child.
Review by Clinton Stark
Cooking History: A lesson you won't soon forget.
Cooking History: A lesson you won’t soon forget.

Mash-up Food Network with The History Channel and you’d have an intriguing documentary called Cooking History. Chances are, you’ve never seen anything quite like it. Surprisingly, it works well—although, I could do with one or two fewer animal decapitations. But this is life or death, depending if the bread is poisoned. Soldiers need to eat and “should never go to war on an empty stomach.”

Set against 6 wars and featuring 6 war-time recipes, cooks, chefs, and kitchen staff tell their stories in dramatic fashion. This is the real, battleground edition of Iron Chef America. No acting required. Stock black and white footage is effectively interwoven with the interviews to dramatic effect.

In one stomach turning scene, a cow is decapitated. Mais non! A graphic moment that reminded me that this is not Julia Child’s kitchen; although, I half expected her to march across the battlefield when later a chef is tasting Coq au Vin and reminiscing.

The juxtaposition of food against the backdrop of war is strikingly unique.

Do you know what it takes to feed Kommissbrot bread to 18 million German soldiers?

4,500 tonnes of flour.

1,350 tons of baking yeast.

3,600 tons flour mixture.

2,385,000 litres of water.

54 tons of yeast.

157.5 sourdough mixture.

And, oh yes, don’t forget… a “pinch of salt.”

Cooking History at Cinequest
Can they defeat the Nazis without Julia Child?

This film has wit and sarcasm to spare as old-timers recall bittersweet memories: “Enjoy the war, the peace will kill you.”

The Russian Blini pancake recipe made me hungry, and reminded of a cruise I took as a child with my parents on a Polish ship from England to Canada. A story for another time.

The flashbacks and stories crescendo at the end with an unbelievable first-person account involving a submarine. The kind that makes you need a quick shot… of anything. It’s times like these you realize how captivating a well-told story can be. Kudos to the filmmakers for capturing it so well.

The sixth 2010 screener we’ve reviewed to-date, Cooking History is a fine, if not unusual, documentary. It’s exactly the kind of creativity, intelligence you wish for in an independent film. Not for the squeamish at times, but definitely a perfect dish for foodies and history buffs alike.

“Life isn’t a bowl of porridge, there aren’t any easy recipes.”

Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear