Finding a great food documentary is easy these days. From your local arthouse theater, across umpteen streaming services, and cable TV, food is everywhere. Some of it is standard food porn, highlighting the complexity of haute cuisine and the relentless personalities who make it possible. Some of it is straight forward and dry. Rarely do you find a film that exposes the real lives of the people in the kitchen and just how annoyingly hard it is to make a perfect dish and get it out on time.
Enter Maurice Dekkers who followed chef René Redzepi of NOMA on an odyssey from Denmark to Tokyo. The resulting doc is an anomaly of culinary cinema called Ants On A Shrimp. In 80 minutes, Dekker’s lens does something shockingly new and fresh: He focuses on the staff, demystifies the chef, and humanizes the whole experience. As they travel around Japan’s forests, markets, and cities, the team immerses themselves in local cuisine on every level. Yes, they eat live ants. They get lost trying to navigate streets. They work out in the hotel gym. They drink Red Bull to get a kick before starting service. They fret. They scarf down cheap pizzas and drink regular beer.
Ants On A Shrimp pulls off the amazing task of reminding us that there are regular people behind the aprons.
I sat down with Dekkers a few months back at the Berlinale to talk about his film, travel, how René Redzepi’s cuisine can translate to the common person, and the real life of a chef.