Food in Film - Today's Special and Interview with Food Stylist, Janine Kalesis

Friday, January 7, 2011

I had to see this movie, Today's Special, as it represents
the true mission of
Tinsel & Tine
- create posts that tie the two T's together.

(For Readers that receive this post via feedburner, below is a video interview from "Morning Joe" with Aasif Mandvi, co-writer and star of the movie )

Samir (Aasif Mandvi) is a sous chef working in a four-star NY restaurant. His heritage is Indian, his parents immigrated from India before Samir and his brother were born. Although his father's dream was to be a doctor, in order to make ends meet, he opened an Indian restaurant and has been running it for the last 25-30 years. It's a greasy spoon type joint, not many customers. The only regulars are a table full of "uncles" who sit at one of the tables by the window and act as a Greek chorus.

Samir believes he's in line to be head chef at the new restaurant his current boss is opening. Only he gets passed up for the promotion because his boss tells him he has the head for the job, but not the heart. Actually, he tells Samir the chef he chose for the new restaurant is so dynamic in the kitchen, that he gives him a hard on just watching him cook. Now if that's not food porn, I don't know what is!

The movie is directed by David Kaplan and co-written by the lead, Aasif Mandvi with Jonathan Bines. It's really about letting go and letting passion take over. It's also about rediscovering what you thought you already knew.

Samir decides to go to Paris to study, but before he's able to leave, his father has a heart-attack and he feels obligated to look after the restaurant while his father recovers.
The real color and flavor of the film comes from the two older men, Samir's father, Hakim (Harish Patel) and the almost magical cab driver/foodie, Akbar, (Naseeruddin Shah)

With a film like this, food plays a main character in the story and I was lucky enough to get an interview with the film's Food Stylist, Janine Kalesis.

I first reached out to Janine through facebook, both through her profile and there's actually a facebook fanpage for food stylists in general. Next I e-mailed her through her website. There was a phone number on the site as well, but when it comes to making contact with strangers, my confidence soars so much higher through the relative anonymity of the internet. After a couple of weeks went by without a response, I was going to scrap this angle of the post; but in knowing just as it's easier to reach out to someone via e-mail, it's equally easy not to respond to an e-mail; so I placed the call, left a message and Janine called right back.

New York based
Janine Kalesis is no stranger to the term persistence. 7 years ago when she decided she wanted to segue from Chef to Food Stylist, she first had to perfect the art of door knocking. With her promo cards and self-made, backyard food photo session portfolio, she bombarded every possible lead - food magazines, commercial directors, making cold calls, sending emails etc...

She attributes her Greek background as the beginnings to her love of food. From a very early age she experimented at home in the kitchen; yet she was working as a paralegal when she got an opportunity through a friend to meet with a South American Entrepreneur starting a 3 star restaurant aimed at pleasing the pampered palates of those summering in the Hampton's. The job was seasonal and her mother freaked at the thought that Janine would give up a steady job in the legal field for a 3 month gig cooking for the elite. But following her heart she took the job, learned a lot, went on to other assignments as a personal chef and a stint at PJ Clarke's SideCar.

T & T - I was looking at your website's client list and didn't see any other film credits. Was Today's Special your first time food styling for a film?

JK - Yes. The movie had such a low budget no one else was willing to do it.
I was glad for the opportunity; it was very rewarding and creative.

Over the last 7 years Janine's persistence in forging into the Food Stylist biz paid off. She got opportunities to assist other stylists and discovered the importance of collaborating with the very best photographers, which helped
perfect her portfolio. She soon was sought after for magazine ads, commercials and TV (Good Morning America, Good Day Philadelphia). When celebrity Chef's like Guy Fieri and Paula Deen do a segment on a talk show, they really just show up. It's someone like Janine who is doing all the prep work and making the finished product look like something you want to pull right out of your screen and devour.

T &T
- When I go to an Indian Restaurant as good as the food can taste, there are a lot of dishes that look unappealing. A lot of bright yellow or green sauces, goat pieces and soft looking foods. Was it a challenge to decide what types of dishes would film in an appetizing manner?

- Yes, a bit.
Well, I worked with a chef on set, Kevin Patricio, and at first he wanted to make elaborate sauces that take like 5 hours and wanted them to appear the color they would in a restaurant. My job is to teach the short cuts; yes it has to be edible, but not seasoned to perfection. It's more important to pump up the color on a sauce then have it be authentic. You also have to choose dishes that can be replicated again and again and again and always look almost identical to what was used in the take before.

T &T -
Did Kevin feel as if you were stepping on his toes?

JK -
No. We had a great time working together and keep in touch. He wanted to know about the magic behind the scenes and we really had a good partnership. And although I wasn't given an assistant, the PA's on set were amazing and very helpful.

T &T-
Were you extremely nervous as this was your first time working with food for a film?

- No. Not at all. I understand how food behaves and reacts. I really didn't need any direction. In fact, in many ways, food styling for a movie is much easier than doing it for print publication, because the movie camera is more forgiving. Your panning, no ones eyes are going to be on it for long periods of time. With a magazine for instance, if you need to catch a drip coming off a sundae, the photographer and I have to have the timing correct, it can be a challenge to capture the precise moment. That really isn't part of the experience in film. At least not this film.

T & T
- Do you have the next film on tap?

- Not yet. This is definitely something I plan to do more of though. I now have agent representation.

T &T
- I admire how you took what you love doing and turned it into a lucrative career. I love writing Tinsel & Tine but haven't yet figured out how to make it a business.

- I do feel really good about how things are going. I'm also an artist (sculpting, jewelry, pottery) and I feel like as a Food Stylist, I'm able to combine art and business in the best way possible.

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About This Blog

is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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