Five Food Disasters on Film

On April 24, 2005 -- the day after YouTube officially opened its doors to all the cute cat videos and leave-Britney-alone pleas the madding crowd could muster -- a little video called "Flambe Disaster" became the third video to be uploaded on the site.

A short video chronicling the disastrous attempt to flambé a steak at a dinner party -- in which the pan bursts into high-reaching flames -- this amateur recording of a dinner-gone-wrong followed in the footsteps of many a Hollywood film before it.

Both the kitchen and the dining room have long been choice settings for memorable dialogue: Families clash over values (beyond how to load the dishwasher); new friends reconnect with old; children devise new ways to disappear their vegetables (nevermind how often what seems like a delicious meal leads to a murder mystery). And just as the food triumphs we see on the big screen can seem outlandishly professional compared to our own feasts, when a meal goes wrong in the movies - and they can go very, very wrong - the disaster that follows is often all the more dramatic.

Whether it's a home-cooked meal abandoned for reliable takeout or an overly ambitious menu, these food disasters on film offer good reminders of what not to do:

Will Smith gets a swelled head -- literally -- and Ben Stiller bleeds on everybody after the jump.

The Accidental Tourist (1988)

Rundown: In this comedy-drama in which a man (William Hurt) goes home for the holidays to his estranged - and strange - siblings, the discovery that the turkey has been dangerously undercooked is made before the meal, and then announced at the dinner table. Watching Hurt try to delicately address the disaster ("We think it may have been cooked at a slightly inadequate temperature...") while talking up the non-poisonous side dishes is just too much fun. When his sister, the undercooker in question, balks at the critique, her would-be-lover eats two helpings to demonstrate his affection. As she so proudly announces later, "He ate my turkey!" Poor Prince Charming; if it's not a dragon to be bested, it's food poisoning.
Lesson Learned:
140 degrees Fahrenheit is not a good temperature for cooking your turkey.

Julie & Julia (2009)

Rundown: This delightful film about everyday writer Julie (Amy Adams) taking on all the recipes in the great Julia Child's first cookbook is filled with the stuff of kitchen nightmares (and dining table dreams). Her disastrous experience with beef bourguignon leaves her home sick from work for the day while she regroups, but it's the aspic (as she describes it, a "beef-flavored jello mold") that proves one of the greatest stumbling blocks. It's grueling to watch her slave over this odd dish only to see it tumble down into the sink, clogging the garbage disposal.
Lesson Learned:
Unless you're writing a blog that will lead to a book and then movie deal, be cautious when selecting recipes way beyond your skill set.

Hitch (2005)

Rundown: As the charming "date doctor" Hitch, Will Smith is on a double-dinner-date with the woman of his dreams (Eva Mendez) and her boss when he has an allergic reaction to something he ate - first causing his throat to itch, then his breathing to become labored, and finally his whole face to swell up. In the middle of the pharmacy, his face puffed up like a non-green Shrek, Hitch is still protesting, "It is not that serious!" The scene may be funny, but it actually spawned a number of press releases from food allergy awareness organizations about just how dangerous just this situation can be.
Lesson Learned: Food allergies are dangerous; know your own and those of your guests.

What's Cooking (2001)

Rundown: This brilliant Thanksgiving film by acclaimed Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha (and featuring an incredible ensemble cast) follows the holiday dinners of four diverse families on one block. There are both mishaps and amazing successes (recipes from the film's eclectic takes on a traditional Thanksgiving meal were released with the DVD). One family drops the turkey, while another burns it beyond repair, making a last-minute substitution of the Colonel's Original Recipe. As the Vietnamese grandmother looks on at the bucket sitting in the middle of the otherwise decadent feast, she declares, "Too bad the turkey burned. I'll make soup out of it tomorrow."
Lesson Learned: Maybe burning your turkey isn't so bad - when there's a KFC still open.

Little Fockers (2010)

Rundown: Ben Stiller has a history of ruining meals in movies for comedic effect (or, some might argue, ruining entire movies). This one isn't quite as bad as when he raced home to make a massacre of Jennifer Aniston's bathroom after dinner of spicy Indian food in Along Came Polly (2004). In fact, the real disaster - if you ask critics and audiences - may just be the film itself. The scene in which Stiller, as often hapless Greg, accidentally cuts himself while slicing the turkey and sprays blood around the room showed up in most of the trailers and signaled just how ridiculous this third in the series promised to be.
Lesson Learned: Be careful with your cutlery, especially around nonsensical plot-device lizards.

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Amanda Kehrberg
Contact: Amanda Kehrberg