REVIEW: Santa Barbara Independent
‘Off the Menu’
Director Jay Silverman
Thursday, February 1, 2018
by MATT KETTMANN
This romantic comedy is occasionally quite cheesy — maybe too much so for “serious” filmgoers — but the overall impression is heartwarming, food loving, and fun.
The story concerns an aloof son of a fast-food-chain founder who must prove his mettle by finding the next hot dish. He winds up in a small New Mexican village, enraptured by the cooking of a beautiful chef.
Will he steal her dish or her heart? Or both? A quirky cast of characters adds extra seasoning, as do the anti-corporate/pro-slow-food undercurrents.
Director Jay Silverman is a graduate of the Brooks Institute of Photography, and his sister, Elaine Cohen, is a Santa Barbara resident.
What drew you to this story? I was drawn to this story about two opposites from different worlds who fall in love, in contrast to a magical farm-to-table chef and a trust-fund kid whose father controls the fast-food world. The female lead character of Javiera — a strong single mother, with a successful business, and not necessarily looking for love — was something fresh I hadn’t seen before. Overall it’s a charming, funny, and romantic story [of a kind] that just isn’t made anymore.
Food is the central theme, and food is a huge part of pop culture now. Do you think this film would have resonated a decade ago, or does it work today because food culture is so mainstream now? I believe it would resonate with audiences at any time as it’s a timeless love story centered on two different cultures.
This is a love letter to New Mexico. What is so magical about the place? The town of Taos, where we filmed, has a serendipitous quality that draws artists from all over — maybe it’s the high altitude, the friendly residents, or the expansive sky, but it really does live up to its name as being the “Land of Enchantment.” I’d never been there and simply was taken by the people and the culture.
This is also an indictment of fast food and the appropriation of traditional cuisines to make big bucks. Do you feel strongly about that? I had been inspired by Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma to show how huge a role food plays in our lives. Joel’s family owns one of America’s fast-food chains, while Chef Javiera has a farm-to-table approach that I really wanted to highlight. This cultural detail was central to the story, but also resonated with me personally.
Where did you find the lead actress, who fits the role perfectly? Is she from New Mexico? Our lead, Dania Ramirez, is originally from the Dominican Republic and is well known in TV, starring on Once Upon a Time and Devious Maids. We were thrilled that someone of her caliber agreed to do our small indie film and pull out all the stops, making Javiera a strong female character that fits perfectly with today’s female message.
Were there any particular challenges to making this film? Filming began in New Mexico with the threat of rain looming, but we were fortunate enough to enjoy clear skies every day. That is, until the very moment wrap was called, and a thunderstorm broke out that didn’t let up for days!
The climax of the film was shot on the Rio Grande with the permission and cooperation of the New Mexico Bureau of Land Management. However, a recent drought posed a unique challenge to the production, as the stunts were performed in less than four feet of water. This required the use of special visual effects in order to make the sequence seem more perilous.
Javiera’s kitchen was a set built on our Hollywood soundstage, giving the art department the freedom to create an inspired space that had no comparison in real life.