Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab
Photos and Video
Founded by legendary chef Paul Bocuse, the Bocuse d'Or competition is pretty much the Olympics of haute cuisine, bringing 24 virtuoso chefs from around the world to a sports arena in Lyon, France every other year for a competition in which they have five and a half hours to prepare 12 portions of two complete meals. The chefs represent not only themselves, but their nations-and by extension, their national cuisines. Spain's 20-year victory drought at the start of The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab is something of a national thumb in the eye, especially since by itself San Sebastian, the capital of the nation's Basque region, boasts of having more Michelin-starred restaurants per square kilometer than any other place in the world. Following master chef Jesús Almagro as he seeks to bring the Bocuse d'Or home to Spain at last, The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab takes its name from the 2006 competition's three mandatory ingredients. Director José Luis López-Linares darts away from the kitchen to educate viewers on happy halibuts, the difference between the king crab's killing and eating claws, and the poultry-loving culture of Bresse, France, but most camera time goes to Almagro's nerve-racking efforts to please the palates of his countrymen chefs. This committee of Spain's cooking titans is desperate for a win-though, as one former contender notes, improvisational Spanish cuisine fights an uphill battle at the formal and Frenchified Bocuse d'Or. Those kinds of insider observations comprise much of the easy pleasure of The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab, a movie that will have your mouth watering at the same time you're biting your nails.
Co-hosted with Instituto Cervantes, The Cultural Center of Spain in New York.
Director's Statement Collapse
A few years ago I read a fascinating book with the eye-catching title Cooking Maketh the Man written by the scientist Faustino Cordón. What jumped out at me was his conviction that language, given that our faculty for speech is what defines us, could only have developed in humanoids (already sufficiently evolved to wield instruments certainly) exactly when they started going about transforming other animals, by means of fire, into food for themselves. The notion that man himself, and of course the culture that goes with him, comes from cooking seemed to me to be worthy of further exploration, above all because what it implied about the continual evolution of human beings. What if cooking is still influencing our evolution? Back then I was quite a bit younger and I was still trying to find my way in the world, and I couldn’t hit upon an approach to the subject, although I didn’t give up on it either. I left it percolating away at the back of my mind.
During those years my interest was centered on how ideology and the weight of historical events influence the fate of individuals. Storm the Skies (Goya nomination for best editing; Special Cinema Prize, Premios Ondas, 1997), which I co-directed with Javier Rioyo, was about the impact of ideology on one family during a time in Spain’s history. Strangers to Themselves” (Goya nomination for best documentary, 2002) was also co-directed by Javier, and it dealt with the weight of destiny and the struggle by individuals to change it. They were both documentaries about the individual confronting huge events—History with a capital H.
In An Instant in Another Life (Venice Film Festival and Goya, best documentary 2004), I became more interested in how the individual faces up to his surroundings. Thanks to some marvelous footage a family had, I was able to re-create a certain social evolution.
But it was difficult to give up on the idea of how cooking transforms us into what we are. I lived surrounded by people who loved the gastronomic world. In fact, the film is dedicated to Jaime Borrell, one of the greats of gastronomic criticism. I observed more and more just how much time we spend eating—eating well that is—and how much we spend talking about food. Besides, Spanish has gone through a huge transformation, which has been faithfully captured by the evolution in its cooking since the time the book was published back in the 80s. It has steadily changed from a country where survival was the goal to one where enjoying oneself is the priority. And along with that, the phenomenon of a group of chefs who were becoming media stars in their own right also seemed very interesting to me.
When Antonio Saura told me that Jesús Almagro had won the Spanish Culinary Championship and was preparing for the Bocusse d’Or, it struck me that I had within my grasp a lot of the material which would allow me to respond to the curiosity which had been devouring me for so long. The idea of following day by day, with total freedom, a man submitted to the intense training requirements of a gastronomic competition was provocative. It threw up formal, ethical, and practical challenges, which I found enormously stimulating. Meeting Jesús was a real joy because he’s a magnificent guy—sincere, honest, and open—a great main character. After the recipe he prepared for the first tasting turned out to be a disaster, I realized that I had the element of suspense to make a film. From then on, everything was a race against the clock; a race for them, and a race for me too.
How do I approach a documentary? For me, a documentary is a process of discovery. A documentary which is totally planned, which limits itself to “documenting” something already known, makes me feel uncomfortable. I prefer the process of finding out what is inside the story. In that sense, I feel identified with Michelangelo’s neo-platonic notion that the sculpture is already inside the block of marble, the task being merely to reveal it. As far as I see it, whatever takes place is there to be told, and my job is to provide the best synthesis of events as I can.
The stress that Jesús lived under during the first months of his preparation for the Bocuse d’Or was a perfect environment for my notion of what a documentary should be. Every day something completely and absolutely unpredictable took place, causing very different reactions and some highly stimulating situations. The idea that we were making a “gastronomic thriller” came about from the very tension we lived through as we witnessed Jesús searching for his recipe while time flew by. It was cinema in its purest state, which is all about tension, uncertainty, and complicity.
Jesus has proved himself to be a first-class main character, and so was the team of collaborators who surrounded and supported him, starting with Pedro Larumbe, a chef of the highest prestige who we witnessed give it all in order to pull off the feat. Then there was the charismatic, generous and bohemian Alberto Chicote, who helped us at every turn. And Arne Sorveig, who was behind us from the start and who showed us a Norway of flavors and tastes which we’d never dreamed existed, and all of the other chefs there. The process of making a documentary often means putting yourself amongst people and dreaming their dream. For us it was a case of putting ourselves amongst people and living their stress as preparations for the competition advanced.
I believe that The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab tells us something about who we are today: a society which is fascinated with all kinds of competitions and contests, obsessed with success; a society in which these competitions determine to a large part the professional lives of the participants involved (the same thing, to a large extent, happens to filmmakers in film festivals), where enormously complex relationships are formed around the phenomenon of an elite. But the film tells us above all about a generous man who worked come rain or come shine to be a better person. Allowing for all the imperfections of comparisons, I think there’s something of Frank Capra’s universe in The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab: a man who stands up to the world for something he believes in, even if the world doesn’t seem to entirely agree with him.
Film Information Collapse
Cast & Credits Collapse
Principal Cast Jesús Almagro, Pedro Larumbe, Alberto Chicote, Sven Erik Renaa, Serge Vieira, Jose Maria Arzak
Screenwriters Antonio Saura, José Luis López-Linares
Producers Antonio Saura, José Luis López-Linares
Executive Producer Antonio Saura
Editor Sergio Deustua
Director of Photography Teo Delgado
Connect to this film Collapse
About the Director(s)Collapse
José Luis López-Linares (b. 1955, Madrid) studied filmmaking at the London International Film School. In 1994 he set up the production company Cero en conducta with Javier Rioyo and later went on to establish Lopez-Li Films in 2004. He has worked extensively as a cinematographer for directors like Carlos Saura and Fernando Trueba, and he has directed and produced numerous films, including Storm the Skies (1996), Strangers to Themselves (2001), An Instant in Another Life (2003, Goya Award winner), and Hécuba, a Dream of Passion (2006).