Food is a commodity that serves to keep billions of people healthy, all around the world. The immense variety of food in the world is astounding and I’m always surprised at the number of foods that I haven’t tried. When anyone goes out to eat, they insert themselves into a small community of chefs, cooks, workers, and owners who serve to make your food and time enjoyable. We take a step out of our lives to immerse ourselves in the lives of someone else and the work that they do for a living. Next time you go to a restaurant, just keep that in mind.
Alinea, Breitbach’s Country Dining, & La Cocina de Gabby are the three restaurants that take center stage in this film. Each has their own distinct method of preparing and serving food, and each have a unique atmosphere about them. The common factor between the three, is that the owners of each have all experienced tragedies while managing their restaurants. That, and all three have consistently received praise for the wonderful food and environments that they provide.
At Alinea, manager and chef Grant Achatz strives to create the most unique food experience on the planet. He dangles food from wires and inflates bags with the aroma of pine to entice the customers. Mike Breitbach and his wife Cindy Breitbach are the owners and managers of Breitbach’s Country Dining, the restaurant that inspired the town and citizens around it. As a family, they serve thousands of customers and provide a communal experience for the town’s citizens. Francisco Martinez owns La Cocina de Gabby, where he and his wife Gabby Martinez cook Mexican food that’s as good as your Grandmother’s recipe. All these restaurants serve a purpose and help thousands of people each year.
Writer and director Joseph Levy has accumulated a curious project that, while enjoyable, doesn’t do a great job of linking the restaurants together. Each story is interesting, but there isn’t too much common ground between them. Other than the fact that their managers underwent terrible things, they have literally nothing in common. The purpose that each serves couldn’t be further apart. One is the highest ranked restaurant in the United States, while another is a 150 year old restaurant, and the other is a Mexican restaurant. It just seems odd that the director would choose these three specific cases.
By far and away, the Chicago based Alinea is the most intriguing of the three mentioned restaurants. Not only do we get to see how the food is methodically prepared, but we also get a great sense of what it’s all about. Grant Achatz takes us through his earlier life at some very successful restaurants and explains his drive to want to create the most exceptional dining experience for anyone that comes to eat at where he considers his home. His brilliant mind is always working to envision something new and seemingly impossible that he can do with food and how it’s presented.
The Breitbach family has the second most intriguing story, as their restaurant has been in the family for over 150 years. The little town of Balltown, Iowa relies on the Breitbach’s, as their family’s influence has shaped the feel of the town. Mike spends his days making each customer feel welcome and also does community service in his area. The town’s citizens come together in the mornings, and some even have their own keys to the restaurant. People come for miles for the “home away from home” feel that the Breitbach’s provide and as a large family, the Breitbach’s devote their lives to serving others.
Lastly is Martinez family and La Cocina de Gabby, which feel like the weakest link of the film. When one restaurant closed down in Tucson, Arizona, the Martinez’s sought out the opportunity to start their own Mexican restaurant. Gabby, who does most of the cooking, claims that it’s all about the passion that you put into cooking the food. She and Francisco have a young daughter who spends her time at work with her mother and father. With some help from a Grandmother and a Sister, the Martinez family spends 20 hours a day at the restaurant that they call their home.
Towards the end of the film, we get a larger sense of what went wrong with each restaurant. In the case of Alinea, Grant Achatz had a cancer in his mouth and could have possibly lost his ability to taste, or worse, lose his tongue. Breitbach’s Country Dining had a gas leak and exploded, engulfing the restaurant in flames. After help from the community and months of rebuilding, the restaurant caught fire and burned down again. For the Martinez family, the cost of living was growing too high and they were practically kicked out of their own house. With a daughter to care for and a restaurant to run, things didn’t look great for the family.
My biggest issue with the film, is that they wait so long to tell the stories of grief. You spend most of your time learning about the quirks of each restaurant, and then in one swift moment, you’re taken somewhere completely different. You’re almost forced to empathize for each case and the change in mood occurs far too quickly. In the end, you’re left wondering why they waited so long to tell you and why they chose these three specific restaurants in the first place. Not to harp on the Martinez family, but their experience is certainly more common than in the cases of the other two owners, so it’s odd that they include them in the film.
Spinning Plates is a fun, hour-and-a-half watch that will open up a new world of food and food presentation. You’ll salivate throughout the viewing and you may even be prompted to go visit one of these restaurants. While it may not make complete sense as to why we learn what we do, it’s still an enjoyable film that leaves you with more knowledge than when you started. The owners clearly care about what they’re doing and it’s amazing to see just how much people put into their food. Next time you’re at a restaurant, just remember to think about what those people do to make your food and stay the best it can be.
Spinning Plates Trailers