Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Toast, the movie is based on Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger, a memoir penned by Nigel Slater, a famous British food writer, journalist and broadcaster. This film originally appeared in limited distribution in 2011 with little fanfare or notice. It basically came and went, but not before eliciting positive reviews from The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times among others. It’s short stint in theatres resulted in its being released to DVD very quickly; a benefit to all fine movie fans.
It’s a bittersweet, sometimes comic story of Nigel’s childhood. He is portrayed as a young child by Oscar Kennedy and later as a teen by Freddie Highmore. Nigel is somewhat of a square-peg-in-a-round-hole-world sort of youth who is seriously obsessed with food and cooking. Unfortunately for him, his family happens to be acutely cuisine challenged. Mum may be saintly and loving, but her piece de resistance dish is a finely grilled piece of white bread toast. Standard evening fare at the Slater household consists of canned offerings that are prepared by boiling the unopened tins in water to heat up the contents. Nigel finds these culinary practices to be quite appalling and constantly begs, cajoles and eggs his mother on to show him how to cook properly, i.e. from scratch. While his mother tries to accommodate his wishes, she ultimately cannot, succumbing to a serious asthma condition. After her death, his rather intolerable and grouchy businessman father, played by Ken Stott, hires Mrs. Potter as the family’s cleaning lady and cook. Soon dad’s passions are inflamed and Nigel is aghast as he openly woos the housekeeper.
Following a rather speedy, and a somewhat surreptitious courtship (Mrs. Potter happens to be inconveniently married to Mr. Potter at the time), a wedding takes place. In the aftermath, the visibly more exuberant and cheerful father chooses to move the frail, newly minted family unit to a quiet countryside locale. Nigel despises the chain smoking Mrs. Potter, (played brilliantly by the versatile Helena Bonham Carter), despite the fact that she turns out very good meals, which everyone knows is a sure way to a man’s heart. And that’s where the problem lies as both Nigel and Mrs. Potter compete for Nigel’s dad’s affections by bettering each other in the cooking department. Mrs. Potter has a slight edge, but because of this she also tends to overfeed her new hubby, and this ultimately leads to his untimely demise. Nigel finally leaves this less than idyllic country setting and finds work as a chef’s assistant at London’s posh Savoy Hotel. He also stubbornly pledges to never see or speak to Mrs. Potter again; a promise he supposedly keeps.
With Dusty Springfield’s husky voice and music as a backdrop to the action, this movie is quite a little gem. It was directed by S.J. Clarkson and is highly recommended for gourmands, as well as connoisseurs of coming of age stories and all British movie buffs.
Note: The Kalamazoo Public Library only carries Nigel Slater’s memoir in book form as of the time of this writing. The movie DVD will be made part of the collection shortly.
Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger