babette’s feast: the chef as artiste, or, all eyes on the quail!

“A great artist is never poor. We have something of which other people know nothing.” ~ from Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen.

If you’ve never seen “Babette’s Feast,” you simply must.

Based on the short story by Isak Dinesen, this profound, far reaching depiction of the transformational power of food is also a glorious celebration of haute cuisine — a fine, masterful art which can be motivated by gratitude, devotion, passion, and a sincere desire to make others happy. “Babette’s Feast” won an Oscar in 1987 for Best Foreign Language Film, and has long been a cult favorite among hard core foodies. It was the first Danish film to win an Oscar; scriptwriter/director Gabriel Axel’s rendering is quite true to Dinesen’s original story, with added emphasis (lucky for us) on the preparation and consumption of Babette’s magnificent meal.

Dinesen’s story actually takes place in Berlevaag, Norway, but Axel changed the location to Jutland, Denmark, because he preferred a less picture perfect, idyllic setting.

In a remote, barren seaside village in 19th century Denmark, two elderly sisters lead ascetic lives devoted to serving the poor and upholding the teachings of their deceased father, a Dean and prophet who founded a well known Lutheran sect. Though beautiful and admired since their youth, Martine and Philippa renounce suitors and all forms of social finery. To them, the earth and its pleasures are an inconsequential illusion. Every day they dress in the same greys and blacks, subsisting on dried salt fish and thick ale-bread soup.

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