Life

A Conversation With The Food Consultant Who Worked With Nic Cage On ‘Pig’

Nic Cage seems to average four or five roles in offbeat indie films per year, most of which you probably haven’t heard of. It’s news when one actually manages to cut through the noise. In 2021, that indie was Pig, starring Cage as a famous chef-turned-hermit who lives in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest foraging for mushrooms with his pet pig. When his pig gets pignapped one day, you think you know the rest of the story.

The beauty of Pig is that it mostly eschews kitsch and that kind of easy predictability in favor of something far stranger. And in the end, much more satisfying, even if its logic doesn’t always track. Where most Nic Cage vehicles default to loud and broad, Pig is impressionistic. Some of the best parts of the film are watching him lovingly prepare a rustic mushroom tart or butter baste a pan-roasted squab.

Movies almost always need a professional to teach the actor (and often, the director) that kind of specialized knowledge. In the case of Nic Cage and that squab (which is a fancy word for domesticated pigeon), that professional was Gabriel Rucker. Rucker is the chef-proprietor of the aptly-named Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon, working in the same genre as Cage’s character in Pig, and thus a logical choice as creative consultant. His path to becoming a Hollywood food consultant came via unsolicited email.

Did he want to teach Nic Cage to cook? Duh seemed like the operative word.

“No brainer, let’s have fun, right?” Rucker says of his reaction to the initial feeler. “I just said ‘yes’ because it seemed like a cool experience. I love Nicholas Cage. He’s his own cultural icon.”

While Rucker wasn’t the guy who taught Cage to make the mushroom tart (that was a different food consultant, Chris Czarnecki of the Joel Palmer House) Rucker took to his task with aplomb. Not only did he teach Cage all the movements, how to break down a pigeon, how to slice potatoes on a mandoline, etc, he also improvised like a showbiz veteran. He now takes credit for one of the more memorable moments of the film and the opening image of the trailer: Nic Cage smelling a mushroom.

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“We talked about tearing a chanterelle and smelling it, even though it doesn’t really smell like all that much,” Rucker says of his discussion with Nic Cage. “Tearing it open and smelling it, and kind of having a pause where you have this moment of, ‘I pulled this off the forest floor,’ like a connective moment. I was completely bullshitting. I was trying to give him some stuff that he could do on camera, but he definitely did that in the movie.”

It’s most impressive to me that it didn’t take Rucker years of experience in the entertainment business to understand intuitively that bullshitting was a key part of his job. And if he did work full-time in showbiz, I doubt he would’ve admitted that to me (that, friends, is why I like interviewing chefs more than actors). Check out our full conversation below.

So tell me how you got involved with being a food consultant?

I just got an email from, I think it was the production manager, he sent an email to the restaurant website, and the manager of Le Pigeon brought it to me, and she was like, “I think this might be a joke, but it doesn’t seem like a joke.” The email said something like, “We want you to be a consultant of this movie with Nicholas Cage where he plays an avant-garde French chef from Portland…” And I mean, the whole premise sounds like it could be a joke or not a joke.

Right. Yeah, I think that’s kind of like the whole movie’s appeal, right?

Yeah. I think so. It’s kind of a polarizing movie that people either love or hate. No one’s like, “Oh, it was fine.” People that aren’t in the restaurant business seem to like it. People that are seem to dislike it, but that’s typical of any sort of movie that handles something of a very specific interest of yours. It’s Hollywood, it’s movies. Anyway, I got the email and I was like, “Well, if it’s not a joke, of course, I’m going to be willing to teach Nicholas Cage how to cook for a movie.” And duh, no brainer, let’s have fun, right? I just kind of said yes because it seemed like a cool experience. I mean, I love Nicholas Cage. He’s his own cultural icon.

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Can you tell me a little bit about your background in the food industry?

I started cooking when I was 18 and then moved up to Portland in two years, at the age of 21, and I’ve been the chef/owner of Le Pigeon for 15 years now. So I haven’t traveled around and done a lot, I’ve just been at my spot. I continue figuring out how to make the most out of it every day. But not that exciting of a journey. I guess it’s exciting in the sense that I found something that works and I’m making it work, and I don’t have a lot of extra chaos in my life which is really nice.

Running a restaurant is chaotic enough.

Do they tell you what your duties as that kind of consultant are going to be, or do you kind of show up and–

They said, “We want you to create a dish for him to cook. Here’s the screenplay, we want you to make a dish for him to cook for this scene.” It was very easy for me, because the dish they wanted me to cook was very similar to what we were doing at my restaurant, Le Pigeon, back in 2006, 2007. I just gave them some ideas. They said, “We love that idea.” And then, Nick landed in Portland and came right to the restaurant. Spent about half a day with me in the morning, just talking about being in the little old kitchen at Le Pigeon, talking about the restaurant and the movements of a chef, and what I would do physically, butter basting with food, and tearing mushrooms apart, and how to chop through and break down the pigeons and cut them up. All the stuff he did in the movie.

He was super — you know when you meet somebody that’s a famous person, like a singer or someone that you’re a fan of, it can go a couple ways. They can be super uncool or they can be very cool, very respectful. That’s the thing that I take away from it the most, that he really cared about what he does and he treated me with the utmost respect. It didn’t feel like he thought it was a waste of his time, he was there because he really wanted to learn how to do the stuff and do it right. He was polite, said, “Thank you,” and he was a professional.

What was that dish that you taught him? Like what is that called on the menu?

It was pan-roasted pigeon with chanterelle mushrooms, pommes Anna, and huckleberry sauce.

Did they say any qualities that they wanted it to have visually before you decided on that one?

I don’t remember, I just picked a dish that seemed very Northwest-inspired and something that would have some good visual appeal. And not be this crazy avant-garde… this guy, he cooks food with a soul and meaning, but not for show. And so, I think pigeon or squab is one of those dishes that chefs cook to have that feel. And then, pommes Anna is a traditional old-school way of making a crispy potato pancake in France. Chanterelle mushrooms, because he’s a forager. So, of course, there’s some foraging aspect to it. Same with the huckleberries, they are a foraged Pacific Northwest ingredient. I think they just wanted it to feel like the Pacific Northwest.

So when Nick Cage came, did he bring any food knowledge to the table with him, or was he–

No. He was blank slate. So what’s cool is we did that the day where I showed him the cooking, we talked about the dish, and the movements, and everything. And then about three weeks, maybe a month, I can’t remember the amount of time, went by, and then, I showed back up on set for one of the last days of filming for this quintessential scene where he cooks. And I got to kind of jump in there and almost give a lot of direction about, “Let’s put this here, this there. Let’s do this. No, don’t do that.” It was really fun. When I showed back up, he was, once again, very respectful. Made sure all of the cast members, “Hey, this guy knows what he’s talking about, listen to him.” Just thanked me very much for my work on the way out. It was great.

Do you remember anything specific that you corrected him on or showed him the more proper way of doing the thing?

Well, there was the butter basting the pigeons with the foaming hot butter. How to break through the bones on butchering the pigeon, and then using the mandoline for the potatoes. Those are the three things that I remember like really going in-depth with him on.

Right, so what’s the mandoline tip we need in order to look like a real chef and not cut our own fingers off?

Well, yeah. Hold the potato with the heel of your palm versus with your fingertips and just use smooth movements.

So you’ve talked about people in the food industry maybe not liking it because it was… do you think people were expecting a grounded, reality-based movie about the contemporary restaurant industry when they saw Pig?

I’m not sure. I don’t even know what I was expecting, but it’s hard for me to be a good judge because I went into it wanting to like it. I got to see how the sausage was made a little bit, and I enjoyed it because I got to be part of it. I thought it was a really well-shot, beautiful movie. But it was an art film, right? It didn’t have a super clear arc of good guy/bad guy, problem, action, and resolution. It left you thinking about things and it wasn’t… it was more about the humanity of people than just the Portland restaurant beat.

Right. I mean, I assume there’s not a real evil truffle magnate that you have to deal with in the Portland food scene.

No, and I think people look at that, and kind of think, “Well, that’s not how it is.” And it’s like, “Well yeah, because it’s a movie.” That’s such a bullshit thing to say, “Well, that’s not how it is.” Nobody wants to go see a movie of how it is. That’s called a documentary, okay? Ken Burns makes movies of things how they are. Like, I want there to be a little bit of a wild, “What the fuck?” element. In the movie theater, we were laughing. It was like, “What? This is ridiculous. No way. There’s a fight club with a little person?” It’s like, “What is this? This is ridiculous.” But also like, “All right, sure.”

Why not? It’s a movie.

Was there anything you saw Nick Cage do in the final cut of the film where you’re like, “Oh, yeah. I definitely showed him how to do that?”

Oh, we talked about tearing a chanterelle and smelling it, even though it doesn’t really smell like all that much. Tearing it open and smelling it, and kind of having a pause where you have this moment of, “I pulled this off the forest floor,” and like a connective moment. And, I mean, I was completely bullshitting. I was trying to give him some stuff that he could do on camera, but he definitely did that in the movie.

Did you have other favorite food movies?

Well, my daughter is named after the movie, Babette’s Feast, so I guess the answer is yes. Big Night‘s a great food movie. We haven’t really gotten a real good semi-realistic, believable restaurant movie. That movie, Burnt, was a fucking joke. It was just so bad.

What about Chef?

Yeah, that was a cute movie. That’s good.

I know what you mean though. It seems like they’re all either really bad or disappointingly close to great but not quite.

I feel like rather than a movie, like a really good HBO series about a restaurant and all of the function and dysfunction and everything could really work out well. I think people have tried and they have not succeeded, but there’s definitely something there.

Now you got connections, now you can reach out and find out if Nicholas Cage wants to bankroll that.

If he’s available, yeah. Something tells me he’s not rich enough to be bankrolling stuff these days.


Pig is available for rent now on most platforms, and it hits DVD and Blu-Ray on November 2nd.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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