“You can’t leave until you eat every last bite,” Chef Maria Sinskey tells the cluster of film and food media at her cooking demonstration and lunch party during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan. That’s where Sinskey whipped up the dishes from Paris Can Wait, a sensual, nuanced movie opening May 12 in New York and California.
Food, film, and travel are a ménage à trois hard to hate. Plus, Academy Award nominee Diane Lane, French actor Arnaud Viard, and director Eleanor Coppola — yes, the mother of Sophia Coppola and wife of Francis Ford Coppola — joined in the food festivities.
The film is like a culinary postcard to France. Lane couldn’t get enough of the Capezzoli di Venere, or Nipples of Venus, that her character savored on film. They’re chocolate truffles. “I literally started strobing from the amount of chocolate,” Lane says, laughing as she settles into her chair for lunch. “I had to keep shooting the scene so I could eat more. I didn’t realize it was such an addictive food.”
Besides the pleasant subject matter, Lane liked that the film was directed by a woman and tells the story of a woman from a woman’s perspective.
Long a documentary filmmaker, artist, and writer, Coppola, 81, is new to directing feature films. Her debut stars Lane as Anne, a Hollywood producer’s wife who takes an unexpected trip through the French countryside, awakening her enjoyment of life, the moment, and the sensuous pleasures of food. Instead of spending some much-needed time together, Anne’s husband Michael (Alec Baldwin) gets called away on business after the Cannes Film Festival. His business associate, Jacques (Viard), offers to drive Anne to Paris to await her husband’s arrival. But that innocent favor of a direct ride turns into a meandering trip with mouth-watering cuisine and a growing intimacy as the two get to know each other.
The fictional film is loosely based on Coppola’s personal experience in 2009.
“The gentleman I took the trip with was so knowledgeable about food, and it was such a food adventure,” Coppola recalls. The trip was supposed to take seven hours, but they took 2½ days. “We weren’t on our way for 30 minutes before he said we must have lunch,” she says with a laugh.
“The food is almost another character,” Coppola says. Expect a meringue-light movie filled with sumptuous meals, rare wines, and romantic hideaways. Anne recaptures her joie de vivre (joy of life) as she journeys from Cannes to Paris with her attentive Frenchman friend.
“I think it’s important to take a transitional moment in your life, or even in your day,” Lane says. “The spontaneity in the film is 50 percent of the joie de vivre, because they didn’t plan their trip.”
We live by our schedules and calendars, she says, and many of us watch what we eat so much that enjoyment is lost. Tossing aside those two tendencies, at least for a moment, is the stuff of life. Look at the two main Buddhas, Lane says. The skinny one isn’t smiling. The fat one is. “No words needed to understand that,” she says, smirking.
Lane loved the French lunches on the film set. “In France, they take that seriously. It’s not grabbing some grub or tying on a feed bag,” Lane says. “It’s a real sit-down meal, where you look people in the face at the table, and chew. On American food sets, it’s really about getting the eating over with so you can get on with your workday.”
Not knocking American food, but there’s just something about the way the French approach the midday meal and the TLC they give it, she says.
The care was obvious at the NYC lunch created by Sinskey, who Coppola approached to help her plan the meals of the movie.
First, Sinskey set out a spread of fresh organic strawberries, rich cheese, olive bread, and crunchy crudités of creamy avocado dotted by fava beans, which they ate in the movie. Her branzino was crusted with scaled potatoes framed by a zucchini pearls and a sea of carrot-tarragon sauce. Her rack of lamb sparkled next to her baby spring roasted carrots, beets, cipollini onions, and haricot verts.
At last the chocolate crème brûlée arrived, which Anne enjoyed so much in the film that it became her nickname. Well, no surprise, the dessert’s creamy custard was rich with chocolate without being cloying, and that signature brown sugar crust on top was a lovely way to break into it.
“The food is not just part of the seduction in the film. It is the seduction,” Sinskey says.
In her own life, Lane relishes her occasional dinners out but admits she isn’t much of a homecook. Her hesitancy to dig into the culinary world personally could stem from her unsavory forays into cooking as a child. “Yeah, cooking for me was a disaster as an initiating experience,” Lane says.
An 8-year-old child in 1970s Manhattan, Lane tried to cook Spam for her dad while they lived in a residential hotel with little more than a hot plate for a kitchen. She loved turning a key to roll back the squarish can’s metal lid. “The concept of Spam was so exciting to me,” she recalls. “It looked like bread, but it was meat.”
Then there was that other time Lane, 8, tried to cook Chef Boyardee pasta — by dropping the sealed can in a pot of boiling water. That can’s red sauce exploded all over the ceiling and walls like a grisly murder scene.
Still, as an adult, Lane once cooked a good lamb dinner that her family ate, she recalls as she slices into the lamb lollipop Sinskey places in front of each lunch guest. When Lane has time at home between film projects, she mostly cooks clean, simple food such as rice and vegetables. She sticks with a safe rotation of about six healthy meals.
“I’ve come a long way from my Chef Boyardee days,” Lane says.
For more mouthwatering French fare, check out our French cuisine page.
— Head Photo: Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard, Maria Sinskey, and Eleanor Coppola talk food at the cooking demonstration and lunch during the Tribeca Film Festival for their film, Paris Can Wait. Photo by Amy Sowder/Chowhound.