French director Paul Lacoste keeps his camera close but unobtrusive as he observes what proves mesmerizing, as watching any true artist can be. Very few conventionally exciting events occur—notably a couple food celebrations complete with drinking and partying and a class to chefs at his Japanese location. And yet plenty of drama transpires between son Séba and father Michel, who has begun the transition to hand over full duties to Séba, as Michel calls him.
Despite 15 years of Séba working and preparing, the pressure on him is clear, for beginning in 1978 the self-taught Michel guided his legendary restaurant Lou Mazuc in Laguiole, southern France. In 1992 it moved into an architecturally stunning hotel-restaurant, dominated by glass to allow heightened appreciation of the beautiful landscape, thereby more fully involving all the senses. In 1999 Michel earned a prestigious, coveted 3-star Michelin rating. Director Lacoste doesn’t present much of this factual information, preferring to watch Séba work with Michel supervising, admittedly reluctant to yield the reins.
Lacoste divides the film into the four seasons, in order to show the chefs out in nature selecting and then integrating local flowers, vegetables, and fruits into the dishes. As with this past year’s “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” though with much less direct commentary, “Step Up to the Plate” implicitly, rather than explicitly, conveys its insights; that is, viewers must watch as patiently as these chefs work. For example, Michel suggests that a touch of a vegetable should curve to the right and not the left, thereby illustrating their attention to minute detail.
The only downside of “Step Up to the Plate” is not being able to sample this elegant cuisine and concluding the film hungry to do so.