Welcome back to Friday afternoon, the sweet spot of each and every week. To help you generate some ideas for what to watch this weekend, I’ve got notes on two terrific documentaries from the vault and a new culinary travel series, plus a roundup of the week’s food-related entertainment news. Without any further ado…
Revisiting the ‘Queen of the Meat Market’
If you’re ever feeling fatigued by the modern dining scene and its endless copycats of the same trendy hot spots, the documentary Florent: Queen of the Meat Market might just restore your faith in restaurants. The film chronicles the life and death of a New York City diner that was a 24-hour community hub, a stage for political activism, and, for the people who worked there, a canvas for personal and artistic expression.
33 years ago, French-born restaurateur/mapmaker Florent Morellet opened his epoynmous diner in the middle of an industrial block of Lower Manhattan that was populated by meatpacking facilities that operated during the day, and leather bars that came alive at night. Florent became a magnet for downtown artists, celebrities, club kids, drag queens, and prostitutes, as well as tourists flocking to see one of the restaurants featured on Sex and the City. “I enjoy the gamut, I enjoy the mix,” Morellet explains in the film. “I don’t want to have a restaurant that’s only rich people, only gay people, only working class, or only a group.”
Two years after opening his diner on Gansevoort Street, Morellet learned that he was HIV-positive. Instead of hiding this information from his guests and employees, he folded his diagnosis into the culture of his restaurant. Florent posted his T-cell counts on a menu board above the counter, he handed out blank living wills to his guests, and he also posed nude on the cover of Poz magazine with a number of other HIV-positive New Yorkers. The photo shoot took place right there inside his restaurant.
Morellet advertised his restaurant in a series of visually-stunning print ads, some of which contained overt political messages about hot-button issues of the day. The restaurateur also organized a series of bus trips for employees and patrons of his restaurant to attend major marches in Washington — with brown bag lunches and snacks provided by Florent, of course.
In a classic New York twist, the restaurant that put the Meatpacking District on the map was forced to close due to an outrageous rent hike from a greedy landlord. But Florent’s history was properly eulogized durings its last week in business (an occasion that was exhaustively chronicled in the early days of Eater), and the remembrances in this film from Morellet and his former staffers and famous regulars (Julianne Moore! Isaac Mizrahi! Diane von Furstenberg!) fill in the rest of the picture.
This is not a family film. There’s a lot of nudity and profanity mixed in with all of these rosy recollections, as well as some glimpses at the grittier side of New York in the ‘80s and ’90s. But the documentary is essential viewing for anyone who’s interested in the history of Lower Manhattan and the evolution of the restaurant scene over the last four decades.
Streaming recommendations du jour
No Passport Required, “Chicago”
The gist: The latest episode of Eater’s collaboration with PBS explores Chicago’s Mexican community and the challenges facing immigrants inside and outside the kitchen these days.
During his tour of the Windy City, Samuelsson makes a green mole with chef Diana Dávila at her restaurant Mi Tocaya, he eats tongue tacos with artist Juan Michael Chávez at La Barca, and he hops into the kitchen of Carnitas Uruapan to see how two generations of chefs prepare the restaurant’s famed braised pork. Along the way, Samuelsson and his tour guides also discuss ICE raids, the DACA program, institutional racism, and all the ways that Mexican immigrants bolster the hospitality industry. “You take away the Mexican-American community in this country, our food does not taste good,” Samuelsson remarks.
It’s a heavy episode of the show punctuated by some amazing footage of both traditional and modern Mexican dish preparations. If you’ve never sampled the bounty of Chicago’s Mexican restaurant scene before, this installment of No Passport Required might make you want to book a trip to that great city ASAP.
The Great Chicken Wing Hunt
The gist: This oddball documentary from 2013 about an elaborate chicken wing crawl has so many quirky characters and humorous interactions that it could almost pass as a Christopher Guest mockumentary in the vein of Waiting for Guffman or Best in Show. But there’s no shame in laughing at these jovial wing fanatics, because they are, themselves, very aware of the nerdy nature of their obsessions, and appear to revel in the weirdness of their journey.
Watching this film for the first time recently, I was struck by how different the world of food nerdery looked nearly a decade ago, when the documentary was filmed. Instead of Instagramming their conquests, updating Facebook groups, and recording podcasts about their obsessions, the wing hunters… kept detailed score cards, hosted wing meetups at bars, and sometimes appeared on FM radio morning shows talking about their discoveries.
But one thing that has aged very, very well in this film is its depiction of how food obsession can cause a rift in a romantic relationship. Throughout the documentary, the head wing hunter’s girlfriend toggles between being supportive of her boyfriend on his weird personal journey, and being irritated by his devotion to what is largely a frivolous, and at times ego-driven pursuit. This dramatic tension is actually what makes The Great Chicken Wing Hunt so compelling to watch.
In other entertainment news…
- To borrow a phrase from the Platinum Prince himself, Guy Fieri’s Shark Week special is “totally out of bounds.”
- Vivian Howard’s PBS series A Chef’s Life actually won’t be coming back for a sixth season this fall. But the North Carolina chef/restaurateur will film an hour-long epilogue, of sorts, and she’s working on another series for the network with a slightly different theme.
- Shouty hot head Gordon Ramsay will show locals how to cook their own foods on the questionable new Nat Geo series Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted.
- The new season of Stranger Things will prominently feature a mall food court.
- If you haven’t heard, the next season of Queer Eye is filming soon in Kansas City.
- And speaking of Queer Eye, here’s grooming expert Jonathan Van Ness doing his best Bob Ross impression.
- Shaq is filming a reality show for Facebook Watch about the opening of his forthcoming Las Vegas chicken restaurant. It’s called Big Chicken Shaq, and it will premiere this fall.
- And finally, this In-N-Out cosplayer is the true hero of Comic Con.
Have a great weekend, and if you’re looking for something hearty to kick things off on Saturday morning, consider making John Legend’s favorite breakfast sandwich from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings book.