I hadn’t realised just how central to the action the food stalls were until I heard the screams.
George Clooney had arrived.
Just 20 metres from the red carpet I was holding a steaming plate of spaetzle with crispy fried onions scattered on top. I protected it against people who brushed past, following the screams to see what was happening. Some of them caught a quick flash of Clooney’s silver head in the distance; none of them stopped to see what they were smelling, what I was holding.
That is typical of my experience at the Berlinale Street Food Market so far. Dotted along the tiny stretch of Joseph-von-Eichendorff-Gasse from the entrance to Potsdamer Platz Arkaden to Alte Potsdamer Strasse, the five food trucks couldn’t be better located to catch passers-by. But the Street Food Market has been surprisingly crowd-free. This is a good thing in one way, of course: it means I haven’t had to wait long. But it also means a lot of people are missing out.
This may be down to a lack of advertising. Organised in collaboration with Slow Food Berlin and Markthalle Neun, the market – which is running every day of the festival, from breakfast (8 a.m.) until late-night supper (10 p.m. and occasionally beyond) – is kind of invisible until you are there. There are few, if any, signs about it. In the Culinary Cinema brochure, it only receives a mention in the second-last paragraph of the introduction and again on the brochure’s third-last page. So you would be forgiven for not knowing about it.
But, now that you do know about it, it is harder to forgive not trying it out. Berlin is lucky to be blessed with many good street food markets, but rarely are they so prominent and accessible to a wide audience. This one doesn’t have to be hunted out, or visited on a particular day. Plonked right in the middle of the International Film Festival, it blows up the assumption that food at major festivals will probably be greasy, unhealthy, tasteless, and likely to produce a frustrated snarl or confused shrug if you ask anything about where it came from or what it actually is.
Closer inspection of the stalls’ signs tell you that this is organic, that is made by a guy 15 minutes away, the pork you’re eating was fed only food that was grown in the same land on which it lived, that the cheese is from a cheesemaker who only uses milk from his own cows. But none of this information is shoved down your throat. Nor is there some overarching, zealous criterion that might limit choices or cause many people to roll their eyes in annoyance, like ‘100% organic,’ ‘strictly local’ or ‘completely vegan.’ It is not exclusive. There are vegan dishes and lots of cheese. There are vegetarian options and oodles of meat. There are regional specialties and traditional items from different continents. Each vendor has a mixture of merits – and they all serve delicious food.
So if nothing else, the Street Food Market is surely a reassuring example that we do not have to cling onto extremes in determining how to move away from a largely broken mainstream food supply. And good food can be done on a big scale, at a big event.
While the food trucks are there to feed festival-goers (and the general public, too – there is no ticket required), they also employ food’s unique ability to intertwine with culture and to connect people.
Already jaded by the daily 10 a.m. ticket purchasing madness after just a few days, I went looking for some ticketless Berlinale events. That search got me to the Audi Berlinale Lounge, on the edge of the red carpet, where Musicboard Berlin and the ‘Ein Hit ist ein Hit’ ensemble put on a free-entry tribute to the late, great David Bowie. After enjoying this ‘Bowienale’ evening, I found myself around a table in front of the Big Stuff Smoked BBQ truck, discussing and arguing over the best songs of the night, our favourite David Bowie film appearances (I threw a curveball with The Prestige), and the tastiness of our various late-night sandwiches with two people I had not known several hours earlier.
While the sheer number of films, varying screening times or locations, and uncertainty over obtaining tickets has clouded the early days of my general Berlinale experience, food has been the opposite. Easy to find. Reliably fantastic. And it’s not just the Street Food Market. For a step up, the Gropius Mirror Restaurant is open every day for lunch during the festival, offering a daily changing, reasonably priced, three-course lunch. That is where I headed as the weekend drew to a close and the Culinary Cinema programme officially began.
The programme directors didn’t take any risks with their opening event on Sunday night; this was a safe bet. Pep Gatell’s Campo a través. Mugaritz, intuyendo un camino, is not going to offend anybody. Nor bore anybody, really. But it may also fail to amaze people.
The hour-long documentary pieces together the world within the walls of famed Spanish restaurant Mugaritz. Presenting disembodied testimonies from various members in a deep and varied team – apprentice cooks, sommeliers, gardeners, wait staff, scientists, what looked like designers and possibly even a sketch artist – it depicts a coherent portrait of teamwork, with those involved allowed space to be innovative and run with ideas. The star chef, Andoni Luis Aduriz, doesn’t even feature until midway through. The unobtrusive style works well, floating between different parts of Mugaritz’s creative process without interviews and without the common stress, shouting, clanging and banging of other professional kitchens on screen. In these scenes some cinematically beautiful images hover, like a melting edible flower morsel revealing its lively colours from behind ice, or the quirky plating plan of a dish being drawn up alongside the real thing being assembled.
However, the film risks losing its way when it moves from this style to some more staged scenes later on. Particularly those involving Aduriz himself, like wandering alone through the forest, running downhill with a cascade of rolling plates behind him and some bemused cattle looking on, or an organised scene of the kitchen staff dismantling the restaurant’s exterior signage. In all, the film hops around a bit much and may ultimately end up having little impact beyond being a glowing advertisement for Mugaritz and Aduriz.
But in this case that didn’t matter so much. An introduction or advertisement to the food was probably exactly what the sellout crowd at Martin Gropius Bau wanted – because after the screening the guests were treated to a five-course meal from Aduriz himself. This included whisky pie, sweet potato baked in calcium oxide (quicklime), and a sprinkling of fried skins of ‘kokotxa’ (the gelatinous flesh from behind a fish’s jaw – a Basque specialty). Events in this film-and-meal style run for the rest of the week, and although Aduriz is the biggest name on the programme, the other chefs may have the help of some more thought-provoking films than this one.