How Traditional Cooking Brings People Together
by Christian Ortiz
The 2001 film Tortilla Soup tells the story of a retired chef named Martin Naranjo, who lives in Los Angeles with his three adult daughters Carmen, Maribel, and Leticia. Each night, the family convenes to eat an exquisite dinner that their father, Martin, has spent hours preparing, despite his loss of taste and smell. Martin ingrains in his daughters the importance of eating as a family, living at home until marriage, and pursuing a professional career, but they grow tired of his old-fashioned ways, causing conflict within the family. Even during rough times for the Naranjo family, food acts a way to reunite the family and maintain their traditional values.
Carmen, Maribel, and Leticia reach a point in their lives where their father still wants to raise and care for them, but they are growing increasingly independent and looking for other men to spend their time with. The transition to independence begins when Carmen, the middle daughter, announces to the family that she is moving into an upscale apartment away from the family. Then, Maribel, the youngest daughter, meets a Brazilian guy at her job, and she decides to move into his apartment. Lastly, Leticia, the eldest daughter, meets a baseball coach while teaching, and they escape to Las Vegas to elope. Each of these events pulls Martin’s daughters away from him, but his cooking is what helps him cope with the change. Martin is a widower, and without his daughters, he grows lonely, but preparing food gives him something to do each day and draws his daughters home for dinner. Martin takes pride in the preparation, and he uses it to maintain family tradition and remain in his daughter’s lives.
This is where the cinematography shines in the film: Rather than the usual extravagant food sitting on white, glossy plates, the film concentrates on the preparation. The vivid close-ups of Martin chopping and seeding fresh fruits and vegetables, rolling out dough, and putting the final touches on each dish make you feel as if you can almost taste it. For example, Figure 1 is a close up of Martin mashing together lovely vegetables he roasted. dough After the preparation, close-ups of the presentation of the food on the table make the viewer imagine the spicy smells that surely fill the room. This style of shot also emphasizes how alone Martin is. There is no conversation or people hustling around the kitchen, but, instead, it is just Martin and the food. It seems as if Martin develops a relationship with food as he prepares it from beginning to end – a way of dealing with his loneliness and inviting his family back into his home.
Each of them, despite their more distant lives, come home to enjoy their father’s unbelievable meals. They bring the men they have met with them to dinner, introducing them to the amazing cooking and their father. Each of the guests go out of their way to compliment Martin and ask him more about each dish, allowing them to get to know each other through food. This helps Martin become accustomed to his daughters living more independently while still holding some of his traditional values. Food acts as a way for Martin and his family to maintain their relationships as they grow apart, all the while bonding over his mouthwatering food.
As the film nears the end, Martin realizes that he needs to let his daughters be adults and make their own decisions rather than trying to take over their lives. Food helps him come to this conclusion by demonstrating how he can still be with his family as they transition to living on their own. This easy-going attitude even helps Martin find a woman that he enjoys being around after being a widower for fifteen years and helped Carmen realize she wanted to be a chef after Martin pushed her to be a businesswoman for years. In an extremely rough time in Martin’s life, food is what he turns to, and it teaches him how to be accepting of change and shows him how it can be utilized to bring people together.
Throughout the film, his daughters comment that his food just doesn’t taste exactly the same as before, which he adamantly denies. However, there are fewer complaints and more compliments from his daughters and guests. Ultimately, after Carmen becomes a chef, she makes her father a dish and serves it to him at his own dinner table. He takes a bite, savors it for a moment, and says that it is the best thing he has ever tasted. Just moments later, Martin realizes that he has regained his sense of taste and smell after just one bite of her dish. This recuperation of his senses is a metaphor for Martin’s new outlook and changed lifestyle. Without as much conflict at home, he is beginning to enjoy life and accept the change, showing his progress towards letting go of his traditional ideologies. His newfound outlook and relaxed nature are marked by the moment he regains his sense of taste and smell – the two most important senses for cooking and eating.