The popular Dinner & a Movie event at the UW will celebrate its 100th film this fall.
A Continuing Education course through UW-Stevens Point at Marshfield, the dinners combine lesser-known films with a rich menu inspired by the subject – for example, roast turkey, Brussel sprouts with bacon balsamic, and a plum pudding with brandy butter will grace the table for a showing of The Man Who Invented Christmas later this fall. The classes often sell out on the first day and attract regulars from around the area or as far as Appleton.
English Professor Julie Tharp began her dinners in the ‘90s by teaching a Continuing Education course on foodie films: Babette’s Feast, Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, and Like Water for Chocolate. Two she prepared simple meals for, and then ordered Chinese takeout for the third.
“My early classes were in classrooms and much more casual than they are today,” she said. “Eventually I found that using our Art Gallery was nice because the ambience is warm, and there is a small kitchen next to it.”
The events evolved from those early days of desks and plastic forks to white linen and silverware, candles and wine glasses. Tharp said she’s become a much better cook as well as a film scholar.
“When I started, I had only been teaching film for a couple years and had never really made a strong study of it,” she said. “Now, I feel that I have a vastly greater understanding of the world film industry.”
Tharp has taught Film Studies at the college level for 25 years and World Cinema the past three. Two years ago, she studied Bollywood film as a Fulbright Scholar in India and publishes the occasional scholarly article on film.
Choosing which films to show is a thoughtful decision. “I consciously choose films that are generally life-affirming and contain a minimum of violence. I also look for films that are intelligent or thought-provoking so that they lend themselves well to discussion,” Tharp said. “Finally, I choose films that are either domestic sleepers or foreign pictures that few are likely to have seen. I do not choose films based on their inclusion of food, but if they have natural menu associations, all the better.”
When planning the menu for the event, Tharp watches the film for foods she might replicate or simply designs it around the setting or theme, striking a balance between comfort foods most would enjoy and a few that challenge diners to try something new.
The events have included a British Christmas dinner for Love Actually and Kinky Boots, Native American cuisine for Imprint and Jingle Dress, Middle Eastern food for Jordanian and Iranian films, and Indian food for Tharp’s favorite Bollywood movies.
“Some films require a lot of research on my part—Laotian food for The Rocket or Senegalese food for The Intouchables for instance. I will often seek out restaurants to discover how the food is supposed to look and taste if I’m not familiar with it,” said Tharp.
After testing recipes on her “guinea pigs” for honest feedback, the recipes are adjusted or replaced altogether. Then, Tharp develops a detailed plan for getting the meal prepped and ready for showtime, which means a 12-14 hour day of cooking, setting up, teaching, and cleaning.
“I cook everything myself, but sometimes I use a few shortcuts, like buying bread from a local bakery or buying Indian sweets from an Indian grocery store,” she said. “I do my best to use local and organic foods when I can.”
During a cooking class in Tuscany this past summer, Tharp learned about Italian Academy Award winner, Life is Beautiful and was able to tour the Tuscan hill town where it was made. The film marks the 100th anniversary for Tharp’s Dinner & a Movie events and inspired a menu featuring zucchini timbale, insalata Italiana, porcini and beef stew over polenta, pasta with asparagus and speck, Italian bread, and tiramisu. Separately, an Oscars-themed awards party was held September 18 for anyone who had ever attended a dinner.
Although it’s plenty of work planning at least three movies and six events per season, the only thing Tharp doesn’t enjoy is cleaning up.
“I love being able to express creativity in choosing good films, designing great menus, and decorating the gallery. I love talking to students and helping them to experience new worlds of flavor and thought,” she said. “I love to take all the raw ingredients and transform them into an intriguing, satisfying, and tasty experience.”
She plans to host the events as long as she is able to, but may simplify them in the future. Those interested in attending can register online at this link. More info on the events, including recipes and film discussions, can be found at www.juliesdinnerandamovie.com