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The Man Who Ate Too Much: Alfred Hitchcock’s Quiche Lorraine

Alfred Hitchcock

Frances:              You want a leg or a breast?

John:                   You make the choice

To Catch a Thief (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955)You can -ahem- catch To Catch a Thief at CINEMATEK on Thursday, February 14th.

Whether it was Grace Kelly and Cary Grant enjoying a saucy picnic in the French Riviera in To Catch a Thief (1955), Jimmy Stewart trying to wrap his head around a Moroccan tagine in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), or Alec McCowen munching on his wife’s awful meals while discussing equally gruesome murder details in Frenzy (1972), Alfred Hitchcock always made sure to add a little extra spice to his food scenes. Seeing the British director’s silhouette filling out his iconic profile drawing in the opening scenes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, one can only conclude that Hitch’s motto was not far from that age-old adage, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The son of a greengrocer, Hitchcock’s love affair with food undoubtedly started at a young age. When the gourmand director made the move to Hollywood in 1939, it was no coincidence, then, that LIFE magazine named him “England’s best and biggest director.”Geoffrey T. Hellman. Alfred Hitchcock – England’s Best and Biggest Director Goes to Hollywood. LIFE magazine (20 November 1939), p.33-43. The Master of Suspense is said to have brought his own cook to Hollywood and imported English bacon and Dover soles to still his appetite. At his favorite Hollywood restaurant, Dave Chasen’s, his usual order consisted of a $5.50 double steak and a champagne punch made to his specifications. Hitchcock transferred his love of food to his onscreen characters and, unsurprisingly, often employed his dishes as implicit or explicit metaphors for sex or death. The best of Hitch’s culinary catchphrases can be found in his 1946 masterpiece Notorious, in a scene where Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant share sensuous kisses on the balcony, while they discuss “dinner”:

Alicia:                   I don’t like to cook, but I have a chicken in the icebox and you’re eating it.

Devlin:                  What about all the washing up afterwards?

Alicia:                   We’ll eat it with our fingers.

Thankfully, the best of the Hitchcockian meals – be they seductive, macabre or ludicrous – have been edited into a French collection entitled La sauce était presque parfaite: 80 recettes d’après Alfred Hitchcock (Anne Martinetti & François Rivière, 2008). The title is a take on the French translation of Dial M for Murder (1954), Le crime était presque parfait, and the book was published by Cahiers du Cinéma. Foodies and cinephiles alike can now create their own suspenseful soirées, treating their visitors to everything from pecan pie à la Marnie (1964) to Vertigo’s (1958) Maryland turkey supreme. In the immortal words of Bill Paxton in another culinary classic, it’s bound to be “finger-lickin’ good.” The British Film Institute recently led the way by lifting Hitchcock’s gastronomic fixation to new heights for their celebration of Britain’s Master of Suspense. An instructional cooking video presented by the BFI’s ever-charming Senior Curator of Special Collections, Ms. Nathalie Morris, reveals the secrets behind one of Hitchcock’s perennial favorites, Quiche Lorraine. Following the Master’s own recipe, Ms. Morris takes us on a deliciously digestible journey peppered with anecdotes and film clips, while wielding a sharp knife and a heavy rolling pin… Enjoy!