Film

Foodie Doc ‘Ants on a Shrimp’ Is a Study in Mentorship and — Seriously! — a Chef’s Humility

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For a film about work, Ants on a Shrimp‘s labor is almost invisible — as it should be. Like a well-executed fine-dining experience, this sleek documentary entertains, delights, and makes viewers comfortable without evident sweat.

Directed by Maurice Dekkers, it profiles radical Danish chef René Redzepi, whose Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, combines local wild and foraged foods with contemporary culinary techniques to create New Nordic cuisine — which, at thirteen years old, isn’t so new anymore.

But Redzepi refuses to get complacent. His new project is the temporary opening of Noma Tokyo, a pleasurable act of translation. Like the director of a film, he’s an exacting, obsessive boss with eyes on everything. When an employee’s experimental dish doesn’t quite work, Redzepi asks, “Did you make it every day for a month?” It’s both accusation and honest question: Redzepi expects the same disciplined creativity from his staff that he displays.

He insists that, in Japan, he doesn’t want to be “just a tourist, but an informed traveler.” This somewhat presumptuous approach comes from humility; Redzepi wants to use Noma’s ethos of hyper-locality to create food unique to and respectful of Japan and its culture. His staff studies Japanese etiquette, and he goes on trips to mountains and markets to learn about local ingredients and practices.

Unexpectedly, Ants becomes a meditation on mentoring, which is another kind of service. Redzepi, too, is learning how to cook and how to taste. He turns this learning over to his staff, who impart it to their customers. Dekker imparts it to us. This feast of a film is imperfect, but it’s also delicious and nourishing, and that makes it a success.

Ants on a Shrimp

Directed by Maurice Dekkers

Distributed by Sundance Selects

Opens July 29, IFC Center