Step Up to the Plate dishes on family drama

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A documentary by Paul Lacoste. In French with English subtitles. Unrated. Opens Friday, December 7, at the Vancity Theatre

The central dilemma of Step Up to the Plate, involves determining whether or not French chef Sébastian Bras is ready to take over father Michel’s Michelin three-star restaurant, and if Dad is ready to let go.

This is essentially the same circumstance found in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, although that doc carried a subtext suggesting centuries of Japanese tradition. Here, the father-son dilemma is a little more universal, although similarly tinged by an almost Zenlike devotion to craft. Filmmaker Paul Lacoste profiled Bras pére a decade ago for French TV and here documents a transition period that, frankly, looks like it could continue for many years.

Now in his forties, Sébo, as he’s called, endures his dad’s soft-spoken censures with silent grace. The plate is too small; it needs more colour; the foie gras doesn’t look quite right; something or other “should be tastier”. Thanks, Dad!

To read the difference between disappointment and elation on Michel’s face can require an almost Talmudic degree of study. Obviously, the son has that skill, and an almost monastic patience is required for this line of work. Not as scientifically sterile as the white-walled laboratories seen in last year’s El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, the Bras kitchens—in France and Japan—are visible to the high-paying public. But the before- and after-hours machinations contain intense scenes of muted conflict and creation.

The movie, which only occasionally ventures outside of the food aspects of family life, will appeal to people who savour the kind of refinement applied to these lovingly photographed dishes. It triggers a hunger that’s more spiritual than real—but there’s still that, too, just below the placid surface.


Watch the trailer for Step Up to the Plate.

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