As “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened in theaters across the country last month, my wife and I stayed home and indulged in our own form of sensual cinema. We screened “Chef,” a 2014 feature film that boasts some of the best “food porn” around.
Written and directed by Jon Favreau, who’s also the star, “Chef” tells the story of a culinary genius who loses his restaurant job, then gets his groove back by driving a food truck cross-country, cooking his way to bliss.
In an early scene, a freshly butchered young pig rests atop a kitchen table, lit as luminously as a Playboy centerfold. I hesitate to even mention the grilled cheese sandwich interlude, which sizzles with more butter than is possibly legal in most states. Food porn, in other words, at its naughtiest.
By “food porn,” I mean images that depict the preparation and consumption of meals with a sharp eye toward cuisine’s carnal delights. The term is not my own, as a quick tour of the Internet makes clear. There’s even a website, Food Porn Daily, that boasts the motto, “Click, drool, repeat.”
On my latest visit, the site’s marquee attraction was plump shrimp and roasted pepper spaghetti — the pasta glistening indecently, the shrimp almost winking at me. If I thought there were anything half this seductive in “Fifty Shades,” I’d be the first to buy a ticket.
Among those of us who’ve reached a certain age — and a certain waistline — the real taboo these days isn’t sex, but carbs and cholesterol. I recently marked my birthday with a wellness visit to my doctor, who renewed his sensible suggestion that I watch what I eat. As I muddle through oat cereal for breakfast, salads for lunch and grilled chicken for dinner, my fantasy life tends toward cheeseburgers, cheesecake and seafood poboys. Turnovers are a turn-on, too.
I’m apparently in good company, if the growing popularity of food porn on both the big and small screens is any indication. Think of the 2012 movie “It’s Complicated,” where characters, played by Meryl Streep and Steve Martin, consummate their midlife romance by baking chocolate croissants. Or last year’s “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” in which the making of hollandaise sauce seems at least as memorable as making love.
“Better Call Saul,” the new spin-off of the wildly celebrated cable crime drama “Breaking Bad,” opens with the title character, a shady lawyer presumably now in hiding as a baker, massaging dough into cinnamon rolls. A lawyer who once shilled for drug dealers now doles out caloric excess, an enterprise that seems almost as addictive — and almost as illicit.
With the arrival of Lent, I’ve redoubled my commitment to virtuous dieting. That means I’m daydreaming more of a certain shop near my house. It doesn’t offer 50 shades of grey, but something even better: 31 flavors of ice cream.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.