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Published June 30, 2007

Movie menus feature some fine dining

Susan Wloszczyna | Gannett News Service

The art-house hit "Waitress" has down-home diner eats covered.

Now, two major summer releases feed into the cooking frenzy found in such TV fare as Bravo's "Top Chef," Fox's "Hell's Kitchen" and the Food Network lineup by offering a behind-the-scenes slice of haute cuisine life.

One stars a French cartoon rat. The other stars sultry Catherine Zeta-Jones. Both share a hunger for authenticity.

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The computer-animated comedy "Ratatouille," which opened Friday, is stuffed with the kinds of digital delights only Disney's Pixar brand can dish out as Remy the rodent dreams of being a chef.

For research, animators feasted their way across the City of Lights and took cooking classes, while producer Brad Lewis interned at Napa Valley's famed French Laundry. Owner Thomas Keller not only consulted and did a voice, but he also invented the fancy version of ratatouille featured during the film's climax.

Keller had no problem with the fact that a rat, a culinary no-no, is the hero. "The underlying message about passion and persistence resonated with me," he says. "Those are qualities that anyone who wants to be successful should embrace."

On July 27, Zeta-Jones dons the kitchen whites in "No Reservations," a remake of the 2001 German import "Mostly Martha." Her Kate, a workaholic chef at a Greenwich Village restaurant, suddenly becomes a guardian to her niece (Abigail Breslin) while coping with a meddlesome new co-worker (Aaron Eckhart). Even their specialties clash. Hers is French, his Italian.

Director Scott Hicks (Shine), who co-owns a vineyard in Australia with producer wife Kerry, knows about the high-end food scene. But his film had to serve a more American-style kitchen scenario. "It teeters on the edge of chaos."

Zeta-Jones, whose signature recipe on-screen is quail in truffle sauce, and Eckhart took a crash course at Soho's Fiamma. "Catherine even went out on the floor and spent time as a waitress," Hicks says. "She brought her great choreographic skills to the ballet in the kitchen."

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