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On the memorable night when Chef Liz Schuster made an interactive feast for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, she concocted “fizzy lifting drinks” (house-made kombucha with mango puree and house-made ginger beer), Augustus Gloop’s sausage and kraut, and Mike Teevee’s mini TV dinners with Salisbury steak, green bean almondine, and apple turnovers on “teeny tiny trays.”
When she screened A Christmas Story, during the scene when Ralphie gets his mouth washed out with Lifebuoy soap for cussing, she made the audience say the F-word in unison, and then served them soft almond taffy (below left) the same color as the soap.
When she showed the French film Short Order, she made a trompe l’oeil dessert-version of breakfast (above right), with white meringue and lemon curd as “eggs,” and tuile cookies painted with maple syrup and and dusted with bacon powder as “bacon.”
Schuster has run with an idea so quixotic and so damned fun that people are really beginning to take notice. “Tenacious Eats Presents Movies for Foodies Live in Taste-O-Vision” is an ongoing series of five-course prix fixe dinners based around films shown during service. Some of the films are decidedly not about food (e.g., An American Werewolf in London). Others are (Chocolat, featuring assistance from Kakao’s Brian Pelletier). Regardless, Schuster says she has bid farewell to the “monotony that can set in at a restaurant when you make the same set menu again and again.”
There was no monotony when Schuster screened Julie and Julia, reproducing a chocolate cake from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She topped it with number candles to make a “100” for the centenary of Child’s birth, and led the crowd in a happy birthday sing-along.
It was not boring when, for what she called her most festive event to date, the viewing of A Christmas Story, Schuster turned a simple breakfast scene in the home of the cinematic family into a decadent masterpiece.
“Ralphie’s family was eating oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast,” the chef said, “so we made a toasted oatmeal brioche, topped it with a very soft scrambled egg with Gruyère and chives, topped that with braised, thin-sliced pork belly, and topped that with bruléed cipollini onions.”
And it was not just another night on the town when one of Schuster’s team, mixologist Dan Stoner whipped up a cocktail to go with a scene in Dinner Rush that called for red wine, coffee liqueur, and powdered Tang instant breakfast drink lining the rim of the glass.
The chef (below middle) and her squad – Stoner (at left), who also owns the event venue, Meyer’s Grove; Chef de Cuisine Justin Yarrington (below left); and Sous Chef Jake Alcorn (below right) – pause the film at strategic points and bring out the highly imaginative dishes, each paired with a fun and funky cocktail.
Schuster’s fantastical imaginative nonstop cabaret of weird and wonderful cinematic meals began last year, sometime after she left the Scottish Arms. (Before that she was a banquet chef at the Chase Park Plaza, and before that she was a Chef de Tournant at Racquet Club Ladue, and before that she was the “Media Chef” running the charitable Kitchens with a Mission program at L’École Culiniare.)
People had to know she was a master of haute oddities when, at the 2012 Taste of St. Louis, Schuster finished the “Chicken and Egg Battle” with a flash-fried Scotch egg made with a 60-degree egg and chicken paté instead of sausage, and chicken consommé with flash-fried pasta sticking up from the bowl. The latter was dusted with powdered Chicken in a Biskit crackers. To coin a phrase, the lady’s got eggs.
The chef’s great-grandparents owned the former Huebner’s Bakery in the Lemay area, and she basically grew up in the bakery, she said.
The film thing is no accident.
“I have a film degree from Columbia College Chicago, and if I have any downtime I’m just watching movies on a loop,” she said. “Tenacious Eats is taking two things that I really, really love and trying to smoosh them together, but to me, they’re not really that far apart. I’ve watched movies plenty of times to help me come up with menus for my restaurants.”
“At the events people get to use all their senses at once,” she said. “You can smell the food, hear the movie, and the narrative becomes part of the dish you’re eating. And I get to get out of the kitchen and watch people eat. They either like things or they don’t, and you can see it in their expressions."
Schuster (right) says she and her team watch the movie three or four times to formulate a menu, and that courses are timed to be served every 15 to 25 minutes. Other interruptions take the form of interjections and even brief comedy sketches by the chefs.
“It’s like ‘MST3K’ meets Rocky Horror meets fine dining,” said Schuster. “We do a lot of commenting and laughing. During Julie and Julia we made our chef de cuisine wear a Julia Child wig and do ‘interpretive culinary re-enactments.’ We were so obnoxious, but people loved it.”
The upcoming Tenacious Eats dinners include a private event this weekend based around Monty Python’s uproariously funny Life of Brian.
The first course, says Schuster, is based on the scene where the Sermon on the Mount is misheard as “Blessed are the cheesemakers; the Greeks shall inherit the earth.” The chef will prepare a flaming cheese saganaki, fueled with Grand Marnier and doused with lemon juice. Another scene will yield pork belly confit chicharrones topped with shredded Gruyère, fresh herbs, and fig-bacon jam served in parchment. A third, the infamous “Biggus Dickus” scene, is honored with grass-fed tenderloin mignon with a marsala wine demiglace, fingerling potatoes, and house-made Roman flatbread made via a historical recipe. (For those familiar with the scene, Schuster plans to read the menu with a speech impediment.)
Another upcoming private event features a screening of the great vinocentric comedy Sideways. Schuster’s pairing for the notorious “I am not drinking any f*cking merlot” scene is a root-vegetable pancake with horseradish greens, a riff on menu items mentioned in the next scene.
The public events at Meyer’s Grove include this week’s screening of Soul Food (see film schedule below). Chef Schuster said she’s been tinkering with bone-in ham, catfish, black-eyed peas with ham hocks, fish cakes, and mac and cheese, “all turned into a fine-dining experience.” A Like Water for Chocolate screening will include squab with mole sauce and rose petals, and a showing of Big Night will offer the climactic timpano dome of pasta. “If I didn’t make it [the timpano] I’d be chased down the street by the guests in an angry posse,” she joked.
If you speak with Schuster, you should totally play a game with her. It is a game at which she is extremely skilled, and extremely quick. It is the “What Dish Would You Cook to Go With This Movie Game?” and we just made it up.
Here we go:
Planet of the Apes: “I would call it ‘Take Your Stinking Paws Off Me You Damn Dirty Ape’ and it would be pork belly wrapped in a banana leaf on a bed of dirty rice and beans.”
Gone With the Wind: “I would call it ‘Frankly My Dear I Don’t Give a Damn’ and it would be sweet potato pie served in the style of a McDonald’s fruit pie because I don’t give a damn.”
The Ten Commandments: “A beautiful matza ball soup with 10 mini matza balls, one for each commandment, in a clarified consommé with a brulée of mirepoix.”
Star Wars: “I love The Empire Strikes Back. We could do a liquid lunch that Darth Vader would have pumped in through a straw in his mask, something in layers. Or, Yoda might enjoy something swampy, like frog legs. I also like the idea of a freeze-dried Han Solo dessert – but I’d only use local carbonite.” (Laughs)
When Harry Met Sally: “We’d call it ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having,’ and in that other scene she’s ordering a salad, and she wants everything on the side, so we could do a deconstructed Caesar, and make it bad-assed by using ‘Caesar dust,’ and make it really sexual.”
The Exorcist: “Duh, pea soup – an English pea bisque.”
The Toxic Avenger: “A very vegan kinda menu, with a lot of greens, and maybe really mutating something in a microwave to make it look like something else.”
Casablanca: “Braised Moroccan lamb, an obnoxious German dish like schnitzel and kraut, maybe some Belgian chocolate which was hard to get a hold of then, and tobacco-wrapped pork loin for the point when the characters talk about getting American and French cigarettes.”
Fast Times at Ridgemont High: “Fish and chips, and get the sous chef to serve it to everyone in a pirate costume. And pizza, when Spicoli orders the pizza, it would be great to call Domino’s and force the delivery guy to walk into the event and deliver it, just for the laugh. We could also have ‘magic brownies’ with hops bloomed in the butter. Hops and cannabis are very closely related.”
The Godfather: “I’ve been wanting to do that. Godfather is my number-two favorite of all time. Of course we’d have to do ‘Leave the gun, take the cannoli’ and ‘Luca Brasi Sleeps With the Fishes.’ I’m thinking snapper en papillote with oil and herbs. Now that Obama has made it legal to eat horsemeat, a horse carpaccio, too.”
Annie Hall: “This is my favorite movie. How about the scene when they’re driving in her VW Bug and he finds a sandwich under his seat? I’m thinking a muffuletta…"
The Wizard of Oz: “For the ‘If I Only Had a Brain’ number, veal brains. And when the Cowardly Lion sings ‘If I only had a heart,’ beef hearts.”
Schuster’s boundless imagination and ringing success have led her to a compelling point – she’s in the process of researching the feasibility of procuring her own dedicated physical space for the Tenacious Eats Movies for Foodies nights.
A short time ago, the idea was inconceivable.
“I thought no one would follow me down the road to crazytown,” she said, “but boy, was I wrong.”
Photographs of Tenacious Eats courtesy of Jacqui Segura
“Tenacious Eats Presents Movies for Foodies Live in Taste-O-Vision”
Every 2nd & 4th Tues. (but call ahead, subject to change)
$50 for five courses with five cocktail pairings
Jan. 22: “Soul Food” (a few seats are still available)
Feb. 5: “Like Water for Chocolate”
Feb. 19: “Big Night”