King Georges: A Possibly Tasty Movie Review

On our way to dinner at The Broad Axe Tavern on a recent Friday night I told my wife Sandy about the approach, since abandoned, that I might take in writing the article you currently are reading. It was to be a comparison of dinner at The Broad Axe with what my opinion would have been, had I ever eaten there, of dinner at Le Bec-Fin, a famous, majestic and now-closed French restaurant in Philadelphia. All of this made possible sense because the movie that Sandy and I were headed to later that evening in suburban Philadelphia was King Georges, a documentary about the last few years (2010 to 2012) of Chef Georges Perrier’s involvement with Le Bec-Fin, which he opened in 1970.

Yup, I had thought that my culinary tastes and scrutinies would make for way cooler reading than a review of King Georges. And, dope that I tend to be, I was quite certain about what my conclusion would be, even before seeing King Georges. Namely, that I’d prefer to eat at The Broad Axe than at fancy-schmancy Le Bec-Fin. Broad Axe food I understand. It’s good for the most part and you don’t need a translator to figure out what’s what. Le Bec-Fin’s fare, which I had read about for decades, would have intimidated me. That’s because I knew and still know diddly-squat about high-level French cuisine.

We saw King Georges at the Ambler Theater.
We saw King Georges at the Ambler Theater.

But after watching King Georges I did an about-face. Who cares about my food preferences when a terrific piece of filmmaking is at hand? Clear the way! Movie review, here I come! And by the way, I should have given pricey LBF at least one spin during its lifetime. I’d have parted with some serious cash, but the meal and the experience would have been worth it. I hadn’t because I was a culinary coward.

Sure, the food looks great in King Georges. But that’s not the reason to see the movie, as food isn’t primarily what it’s all about. What we have here is a vibrant look at a pretty complicated guy. King Georges is filmed mostly in close-up and often in tight quarters, Le Bec-Fin’s kitchens, and reveals an extremely colorful and self-driven character as he wrestles with the reality that his famed and celebrated baby, LBF, ain’t the destination that it once had been. And that maintaining his customer base is hard and ultimately maybe not possible. What’s a top chef to do? In Georges Perrier’s case, keep on truckin’ and truckin’ until . . .

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King Georges shows Perrier as a sometimes-crazed dynamo in the kitchen, his senses aware of what’s going on in every pot and pan attended to by the small army of chefs under his command at LBF. He rants and raves. He praises and hugs. He includes sh–t and/or fu–k in half the sentences that pour from his mouth. He’s a pip, a perfectionist, an incredibly hard worker who seems to have gotten no more than a handful of hours of sleep nightly for forty-plus years. How can you not love someone like this? I mean, he cares. Born and raised in France, he came to the USA in the mid 1960s hoping to own, cook for and run one of the best restaurants in the States. All of which he ended up doing for years and years. And he became a celebrity of sorts in the process, a big name in certain circles around the globe, eons before the likes of chefs/restaurateurs Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay and Mario Batali became media fixtures.

During the last few years, though, Georges Perrier hasn’t been too visible. Whom, then, do we have to thank for bringing him to our eyes and ears in 2016? None other than Erika Frankel, she whom neither you nor I ever heard of before. Frankel has earned her keep producing documentaries and other works since the early 2000s but, before King Georges, never had donned a director’s cap. How did she manage to handle the job so well? Maybe it was beginner’s luck. Probably it was innate talent. Whatever, having a charismatic figure to make a movie about didn’t hurt.

You know, writing this article has made me hungry. I’m going to head into the kitchen and labor over one of my exotic specialties, a grilled cheese sandwich. I’m sure that Chef Perrier would approve of my sandwich-flipping technique, the precise and practiced manner in which my right wrist rotates just so. Before I say goodbye, however, let me mention that King Georges isn’t making waves at the box office. In fact, Sandy and I were lucky to see it in a theater, because nationally only a single digits number of cinemas are showing it. But happily for the inhabitants of our planet, King Georges is obtainable via Amazon Prime and other online operations. Be it at a theater, or more likely in the comfort of your home, here’s your chance to be the first on your block to watch King Georges. Take it from me, kids. I think you’ll like it.

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(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

Dinner Was Better Than The Movie

When my wife Sandy and I go to movie theaters, which is often, we usually go to a restaurant for dinner too. Movie times dictate when we eat. Seems to me that when we both were gainfully employed we’d dine around 7 pm and catch a flick about two hours later. That meant we’d arrive back home at 11:30 or so. I can’t recall exactly why or when that pattern changed a bit, but getting home late at night, and to bed even later, must have set us thinking about schedule alternatives. A sign of aging? Nah, not a chance. In any event, these days we seem to watch maybe one third of our movies in late afternoon, which allows us to dine at a pleasant hour and arrive back at the ranch before 9 pm.

The Ambler Theater, cornerstone of beautiful downtown Ambler PA
The Ambler Theater, cornerstone of beautiful downtown Ambler PA

Such was the case this past Friday at the Ambler Theater in downtown Ambler, Pennsylvania. There we settled into our seats for the 4 pm showing of Far From The Madding Crowd, the fourth film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s apparently still-beloved novel, first published in 1874. As far as I can recall, I never read the book nor saw the previous cinematic versions. I’m not a completist, so after watching the latest incarnation of Far I have no plans to visit any of the previous efforts.

Far From The Madding Crowd is by no means a bad movie. I’ll hand it, generously, two out of four stars. But it certainly didn’t floor me. It’s kind of slow, which didn’t put me off. It is also a soap opera, which didn’t rub me too wrong either. Soap operas can be fun. What I think I mainly didn’t enjoy were the lines of dialog that seemed to fall flat, or were poorly captured by the boom operator so that I couldn’t make them out (this English-speaking movie cried out for subtitles now and then). And the transition from scene to scene sometimes needed oiling. Other than that . . .

Set in rural England in the early 1870s, Far From The Madding Crowd concerns one Bathsheba Everdene, a young lady aged 18 or so whose innate charms knock men off their feet. Smart and independent, she is not seeking a husband, however. She does not wish to be stifled by the opposite sex. Politely rejecting two decent suitors, she eventually falls for and ends up marrying nogoodnik Frank Troy, an army sergeant who looks so fine in his uniform that Bathsheba’s latent sexual yearnings are forced to the surface. The movie has many plot twists from start to finish. Wait, this is a spoiler alert: Suffice it to say that in the end all is well, or mostly. Frank Troy exits, and steady and sturdy Gabriel Oak, a shepherd and Bathsheba’s first pursuer, finally captures her heart.

One moment at the very beginning of the film didn’t compute, and I’m still wondering how it got past the screenwriter. In voiceover, Bathsheba says that her parents died when she was young and, as there was no one thereafter to ask, she never knew why they gifted her with her uncommon given name. No one? How about asking her aunt, on whose farm Bathsheba is working as the movie opens. Or how about asking the relative from whom, several scenes later, she inherits a farm.

Oh well, that’s a mere quibble. Let me say that I enjoyed the acting of three of the four leads. That trio is Carey Mulligan (Bathsheba), Matthias Schoenaerts (Gabriel), and Michael Sheen (Mr. Boldwood, a rejected suitor). I didn’t clap for Tom Sturridge’s portrayal of Frank Troy, though. Tom’s pencil-thin mustache and darting eyes brought back images of too many silent movie era villains.

The beer I fell in love with at the Broad Axe Tavern.
The beer I fell in love with at the Broad Axe Tavern.

Time to eat. I’ll give three stars to the meal that followed Far, and much of that because of the lovely beer that I discovered. The repast took place in Ambler’s outer limits at the Broad Axe Tavern, where Sandy and I have dined at least 20 times. It’s a gastropub, meaning the food choices extend beyond hamburgers and hot roast beef sandwiches. And, like so many establishments in the Philadelphia region, it carries an incredible number of beers from around the world. That, more than anything, is the draw for me. After studying the beer menu for five minutes, at last I opted for one I’d never before tasted, Franziskaner Weissbier. It is a wheat beer from a German brewery that claims to trace its roots to a Franciscan monastery in 1363. Two thumbs up. Smooth, multi-spicy (pepper, coriander, who knows what else), a tad citrusy. And dig that satisfied monk on the label. Gotta love it.

Crab cake sandwich on left. To its right is grilled chicken panini.
Crab cake sandwich on left. To its right is grilled chicken panini.

Broad Axe’s food is good. I went with the crab cake sandwich and my wife ordered the grilled chicken panini. The former was light on filler, heavy on excellent meat, and pan-sautéed. The latter was large and flavorful, its thick slices of rustic Italian bread delicious. Like countless places these days, Broad Axe, not giving a hoot about contributing to America’s collective expanding waistline, accompanies its burgers and sandwiches with fries. But we weren’t in a fries mood, so for an extra two dollars we each substituted a side salad. On the surface there was nothing unusual about this salad, but it was strikingly fresh and crisp, which is not always the case. The bouncy red wine vinaigrette dressing was an ideal host for romaine lettuce, cucumber, red cabbage and feta cheese. Simple ingredients, top-notch outcome.

We had no room for dessert, though. Around 8 pm, our Ambler evening concluded, home we headed.