Step Up to the Plate, despite its punny, baseball-derived title, is about slow ritual: food prep, family traditions, and those of nature, with wonderful shots of landscapes in seasonal change reflecting the generations we meet in the film. Hence, it’s not a slam dance of a show-and-tell food doc, nor is it investigative. A sequel to an earlier film about the chef Michel Bras, Step Up to the Plate focuses on his son, Sebastien, about to take over—and attempt to maintain the Michelin three-star rating for their world-famous restaurant in the Aubrac region of Southern France. Sometimes using family photographs and even home-movie-type footage, the film also asks the question of where cooking talent comes from, but Step Up to the Plate is mainly about a son looking for approval. In an ostensibly quiet scene where Sebastien presents a new concoction to Michel, filmmaker Paul Lacoste cleverly uses the enhanced sound of Michel slowly, deliberately chewing and crunching, in what is really the film’s climax. While we wait for the father’s verdict—it would be a spoiler to say—the tension tops any thriller.
As for the joy of eating, what with all the careful calibrations of measuring and taste testing, it’s only viewed once, when Sebastien, visiting his grandparents’ farm, chomps into a freshly skimmed and boiled milk topping on fresh bread—a kind of Gallic pb&j? Later, that treat becomes the inspiration for a more complicated dish based on milk curd, blackberry jelly, and other, more exotic ingredients: All is subsumed to culinary perfection in their world. Marsha McCreadie