Like the perfect song tugging at our heart strings during a pivotal scene, food plays an integral role in our enjoyment of a movie. From old school drive-ins to a $15 bucket of buttery popcorn, the right bite at the right moment helps make a movie more enjoyable. And Nitehawk Cinema (136 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-384-3980) aims to take that to a whole new level.
On Wednesday September 18, Nitehawk joined forces with Vans and Lagunitas Brewing Company to present Fast Times at Ridgemont High Beer Dinner and a Movie. The latest in a dinner series focused on thematic food and drink pairings–previous editions included Oscar-nominated Gangs of New York and quirky cult legend Army of Darkness–the experience engaged all five senses in an unequivocal fashion, pairing corn dogs, a shirred eggs/boar bacon/potato mixture, Spicoli’s pizza–delivered in a box to each seat, no less–and a scantron-like cake complete with an edible no. 2 pencil with appropriate scenes as well as plenty of beer to wash it all down.
Fork sat down with Nitehawk owner Matthew Viragh and chef de cuisine Michael Franey, going behind the scenes to learn more about the movie selection process, what it’s like backstage in the kitchen on the day of show, and why next week’s screening of horror classic The Shining with Allagash Brewery on October 22 might be the theater’s most ambitious pairing yet.
The film feasts, notes Viragh, are broken down into three categories: guest chef dinners, beer dinners, and dinners based around spirits and cocktails. “The beer dinners are complicated in that they not only have to devise food that’s related to scenes in the movie, but they also have to make sure the beers are complimentary and the food is complimentary on each course,” he explains. “Those are probably the most complex.” The cinema selects a brewery to collaborate on pairings and courses and then decides which movie make the most sense to screen. For Godfather Part II, the team settled on Brooklyn Brewery, while Captain Lawrence Brewing Company poured for the The Goonies.
Franey adds that the beer dinners “exercise the three different parts of my job more than anything else than I have ever experienced. It’s about timing and execution and flavor profile. And those are the three biggest things I have to contend with on a day-to-day basis.” That timing is paramount, because once the movie starts, there’s no turning back the clock–and since there’s no dress rehearsal, timing must be on point in order to ensure courses are paced evenly throughout the duration of the film.
So how does the team choose a movie? Nitehawk’s cinema department picks a film it’s passionate about and then makes notes for Franey’s team about what cues might make the most sense for course delivery. Franey and his sous chef watch the movie independently, and then they watch the movie together. After the final credits roll, the team finalizes the timing structure for each course. If there’s a formula for a successful beer dinner, it may be choosing a cult classic. After all, where else can you experience courses like the “Truffle Shuffle” (hen of the woods and truffle arancini with lemon aioli) while watching Chunk of The Goonies actually do the truffle shuffle (shake, shake, shake)?
“We want whoever we’re collaborating with to be passionate about whatever we choose,” notes Viragh. And breweries and guest chefs are very amenable to the process. Guest chef Francis Derby, for instance, actually approached the theater about screening American Psycho, and collaboration from all parties is necessary to ensure audience members receive an optimum experience.
As for the upcoming screening of The Shining, “we’re going to have to pick our spots for when we’re bringing food out,” says Viragh–and any fan of the movie knows is not an easy task. The moment when Jack Nicholson breaks a door down with an ax, for instance, may not be the optimum time to nibble on scallop mousse. However, the timeless classic is a must around Halloween, and Allagash was fully behind the project–the brewery does feature a beer called Ghoulschip, after all. Plus, the thrill of pulling it off excites Franey. “I really enjoy that challenge,” he says. “It forces me to be more and more creative.”
The small details are key to tying the dishes together, and astute audience members should be pleasantly surprised with the forthcoming dishes planned for the night: Characters like good old Lloyd and Delbert Grady live on in food form–and they might even make an appearance at the after party that follows each screening.
Hit the next page for photos from the Fast Times and Lagunitas beer dinner. In the words of the immortal Jeff Spicoli: “Hey bud, let’s party.”