MICHELIN STARS are serious business—and in the case of the Bras, a family business as well. Renowned French chef Michel Bras is in the process of handing the reins of his three-starred restaurant over to his son, Sébastien, a transition that's captured with discretion and restraint by French filmmaker Paul Lacoste in Step Up to the Plate. (In French, the title—Entre les Bras—is a play on the family name. The English title makes it sound like an uplifting baseball movie. It isn't.)
The film is charming enough if simply viewed as a portrait of a family business, one that's passed on both proudly and cautiously from parent to child. For anyone interested in food, though, it's a must see, for the close-up, careful depictions of how haute cuisine is developed and constructed.
The level of artistry and experimentation that goes into creating these dishes is mind-boggling. The film opens with the construction of a salad: First, colorful smears of sauce are painted on, and then vegetation is added, herbs and edible flowers, as the salad is built one leaf, one petal, one pea, at a time. As Sébastian prepares to take over from his dad, he begins developing a dessert recipe of his own, which he toys with over the course of the film: frying bread crumbs, skimming the skin off of milk, shaving fine curls of cheese. While in Tokyo, he tries out a version of the dish with Japanese ingredients, and when he proudly shows it to his father it's agonizing to watch Michel pick apart his son's dish, questioning the color, asking whether or not the mochi was made from scratch. ("Are you kidding?" Sébastian scoffs. "Of course it is."), This father-son dynamic, worked out in the kitchen, over delicate plates of food, is totally fascinating—and if the film is a bit overfond of lingering shots of the French countryside, it's a minor flaw.