"No one needs to eat out," notes Nick Kokonas, partner at Chicago's Michelin-starred Alinea. "Why do you go to a restaurant? To be entertained. To enjoy yourself. To celebrate."
Kokonas and his partner chef Grant Achatz are two of the subjects of Spinning Plates, an engaging new documentary from director Joseph Levy.
The film depicts the guts and glory of running a restaurant in America as seen through three very different sides of the businesses.
At the ethereal high end, there's the boundary-breaking Alinea, brainchild of Kokonos and Achatz, whose fight with tongue cancer only brings him closer to food. Then there's Breitbach's Country Dining, a family owned community center of sorts in Balltown, Iowa that must pull itself up by its bootstraps after not one, but two devastating fires. Finally we meet Fernando and Gabby Martinez, who are betting their livelihoods on La Cocina de Gabby, a struggling Mexican shop in Tuscon, Arizona.
Though their business models and clientele varies, each of the restaurants' stories are, in many ways, surprisingly the same. Through each of them, we're taken on a journey of the hope, the heartbreak, the passion and the reward of opening a door and inviting the public to come in and have a meal.
Levy recently chatted with us about the film.
How did you pick these particular restaurants?
I wanted to give a real picture of three very different restaurants that is not what you'd see on TV. Grant's was a very personal story; I wanted to make a snapshot of what happens between his mind and the plate. The Breitbach's is almost the opposite: Theirs is about the relationship between the restaurant and the town. And for Cocina de Gabby, it's about the restaurateurs trying to find the town so they can survive.
Grant Achatz is an enigma in the food world. What about him inspired you?
He is the closest thing to an artist with a capital "A" that I've ever met. He's driven and creative in every pore in his body and every moment of his life. The attitude he and Nick have that "nothing is impossible" permeates everything--even in how they found a way for Grant to live during his cancer struggle. It's a human triumph story that crosses from the plate to life.
Without giving away any secrets, we loved that the movie has a few surprise twists...
The restaurants converge in surprising ways. They kind of crash into one another by the end of the film.