Substance Over Appearance
by Christian Villacres
“Everyone can become God of Cookery. Even parents, brothers, sisters, and lovers, as long as they have heart.” ~ Stephen “The God of Cookery” Chow
Stephen Chow’s film, The God of Cookery (1996), conveys the story of an arrogant man who proclaims himself ‘The God of Cookery’, while secretly knowing very little about the culinary arts. In reality, the protagonist of the film, Stephen, is a skilled con-man who finds success by grossly overcharging customers for his tasteless food. Upon being publicly denounced by Bull Tong, an actual chef, for being a fraud, Stephen experiences his very own ‘fall from grace’. Bull Tong then goes as far as to claim his position as The God of Cookery for himself. The remainder of the film covers Stephen’s quest for redemption with the aid of a group of companion that each have an important lesson to offer.
Making attractive plates was one of Stephen’s skills as The God of Cookery. In addition to making poorly prepared food appear delectable through clever plating and marketing schemes, Stephen also secretly hired actors to taste his food and exclaim how unbelievably delicious it was. All in all, Stephen was a far better businessman than a chef. Stephen even goes as far as to steal an entire recipe for an assorted noodles dish from a street vendor, Turkey, after criticizing it for being tasteless, unattractive, and unsanitary. Ironically, this very dish would be his undoing, as it was the dish that was picked apart by Bull Tong for being visibly appealing, but nothing more. This conflict is what inspires arguably the most important lesson learned by Stephen, which is to not take everything at its face value.
Following his fall from grace, Stephen returns to the vendor he stole from as a panhandler. In response to his unstinting critique of Turkey’s assorted noodle dish, all of the neighboring vendors assault Stephen, but to everyone’s surprise, Turkey comes to his rescue. After saving his life, Turkey serves him barbeque pork on rice, which is an exceedingly simple dish. Nevertheless, Stephen finds the humble meal to be marvelously delicious, and it is in this very scene that he learns the secret behind good food: heart. It is only fitting then that Stephen utilizes this very dish to redeem himself and finally earn his status as a culinary deity. As the true God of Cookery, Stephen realizes that anyone can learn to cook as long as they allow the food to serve as a representative of themselves, reflecting all of the sentiment they felt while preparing it.
The God of Cookery utilizes several elements of magical realism throughout the course of the film. The use of this technique enhances the viewing experience for the audience as it is used primarily for comedic effect, such as incorporation of cartoonish kung-fu moves during the cooking scenes and other fantastical feats performed by the main characters. The intensity added by the use of magical realism is further magnified by Chow’s choice for cinematography. The film makes use of several point of view shots as well as extreme close-ups to add to the tension felt during scenes of conflict. Another use of cinematography in the film can be seen during the cooking competition scenes. A slow pan over all components of the meal coupled with a glossy filter is used while the food is consumed. Finally, while The God of Cookery is presenting his dishes to the public, quick zooms and camera tilts are used in order to lend the feeling of an infomercial, which is suitable considering his businessman feel.
As if often stated by many masters of the culinary arts alike, any person can become a great cook, as long as they truly care about the craft. This truth serves as the principal theme of The God of Cookery. By applying this maxim to his own life, Stephen is able to achieve enlightenment by the conclusion of the film. As said by civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
The God of Cookery. Directed by Stephen Chow and Lee Lik-chi, performances by Stephen Chow, Karen Mok, and Vincent Kok, CN Entertainment, 21 Dec. 1996. YouTube.