I was given the opportunity to screen and review a film for the RiverRun International Film Festival. You may ask yourself, why am I reading a movie review on a food blog? Well, it’s because the film is about food, sort of. It’s about two restaurants in New York City; one that was an “institution” and well known with a large repeat clientele and one that is newer, still trying to find its place and purpose. The film is a documentary called The Missing Ingredient (2015), directed by Michael Sparaga.
Two restaurants. Two stories.
Gino’s, a multi-decade establishment (it opened in 1945), a staple in Manhattan’s Upper East Side achieved international status, partially due to its food, mostly because of the atmosphere and practically because of its red wallpaper adorned with two zebras, the smaller missing a stripe with arrows. It was a busy, no reservation, hipster haven (when being a hipster was cool in the 60s and 70s) that drew celebrities, dignitaries and other important people and was a way of life; probably more than being a restaurant.
Pescatore, is a Midtown Italian restaurant that has been somewhat popular since 1993, but just can’t gain traction and is dealing with stiff competition of other restaurants that are moving in around it, especially since the focus of the neighborhood has shifted. Now, that Charles Divigne, the new restaurateur of Pescatore wants to try other tactics, a different approach to attract new business to his establishment. He decides to “borrow” something from Gino’s. The move is controversial and the reaction is mixed. This film examines why only a handful of eateries of over 24,000, especially in New York, ever reach the status of “institution.” I don’t know that it ever finds its answer but the question is interesting.
The film interviews the former owners, other restaurateurs and long-time regulars of Gino’s about what made the now closed establishment an “institution.” The film explores the reasons for that closure and the emptiness left in the lives of those who called it their second home. Conversely, you hear the perspective of Devigne about his decision-making and the designers quitting in the process, searching for the “missing ingredient” to put his restaurant on the map. You do have to suffer the arrogance of the executive chef of Pescatore (whose name I don’t recall ever being mentioned) and Gael Green, former food critic for New Yorker magazine, but mostly the documentary felt genuine, even when you yourself may question why Devigne does what he does.
Being a lover of food and also being a fan of the behind-the-scenes aspect, this film gave me a lot to go on. I think you’ll enjoy it, too. The film is being shown at 1:00 pm, at the Hanesbrand Theatre, located at 209 North Spruce Street in Winston-Salem. Tickets can be purchased at the Stevens Center Box office or by visiting RiverRunFilm.com.