Delightful Italian and French music and imaginary aromas that almost break out of the screen and whet the appetite are just some of the alluring features of the recently opened film, No Reservations. The movie, a remake of the German movie Bella Martha (2001), also brings together a good cast and a charming plot.

Apart from being an excellent chef, Kate is a well established single woman, unattached to anything other than the pleasure of cooking and selecting the best ingredients (particularly awesome looking seafood) that New York City has to offer.

The background of a family drama gives the story a significance that would not be possible within the world of merely epicurean delights.

Undoubtedly she is a great asset to the 22 Bleecker Street Bistro in Manhattan, but her skill comes at a psychological price. Kate has started to become a concern because of her excess of perfectionism and ill temper. The way she deals with her co-workers has an edge of mania. Her unwillingness to accept either criticism or the overwhelming compliments that customers have to offer poses the question of whether she has either an antisocial temperament or an underdeveloped character.

The manager decides to send her to therapy. But no matter how much the therapist tries to explore Kate’s problems to help her be happier, he fails. Things begin to change, however, when drama strikes at home. Unexpectedly, Kate is faced with the challenge of taking care of her nine-year-old niece, Zoe, whom she barely knows.

This big change in Kate’s life leads to changes also in the restaurant. Nick, a new assistant chef, is hired to help pilot the situation during her absence. On her return she discovers that the new cook is the last person she would have chosen to work with. Though American, he embodies the Italian joy. He loves to work to the sound of opera and turns the kitchen staff into a living choir — in contrast with Kate’s soldierly rules. The gigantic annoyance of Nick’s presence guarantees future clashes with her. Not only is he totally different from her, he is also a potential risk to her position.

Meanwhile, in Kate’s house things are taking time to settle down. Zoe’s new school is not as much fun for her, and bitter memories make her exasperated both with Kate’s faults and her efforts to console the little girl. Zoe’s reactions are painful to Kate, especially those regarding her cooking: perfectly refined it may be, but still utterly unfamiliar for a kid.

With two parallel thorny scenarios, Kate decides to work on them where she knows best: the kitchen. That is how Zoe and Nick meet, spontaneously developing a rapport that Kate regards coldly at first and  then with increasing pleasure. This is her first time cooking without a recipe and she cannot predict how it will turn out. The friendship between Nick and Zoe forces Kate’s life and relationships out of the kitchen. It is beyond the walls of the bistro that she has to discover what she really wants and how to cure the obsession with her job that is preventing her from leading a happier life.

The background of a family drama gives the story a significance that would not be possible within the world of merely epicurean delights. Kate’s therapist is somehow the voice of common sense that slowly allows both the spectator and the character to understand what is really going wrong. He points out, for example, how sometimes the solution for problems in a relationship comes from looking at what the other person needs (fish sticks typically work better for a kid than salmon) rather than at what one is willing to do or offer for them. Abigail’s eyes are those of an innocent girl who hungers for love and care. Nick adds most of the humor to the movie. His playful spirit keeps looking for ways to conquer Kate and in that process he learns from her a crucial lesson about how to assume professional challenges.

No Reservations can be recommended for young adults, and is particularly suitable for a movie and dinner outing. Its romantic aura should not deter men. It can be truly enjoyable and also a good starting point for discussing what priorities to safeguard when trying to balance work and personal life. Moreover, this story makes New York appear a smaller and cozier place, thanks to the sound of opera and the attractive and inspiring appearance of well presented meals.

Ana Ines Trapp graduated in Communication from the University of Montevideo, Uruguay, where she worked as a book reviewer for El Observador. She currently lives in College Park, Maryland and works for the University of Maryland Libraries.

No Reservations | Directed by Scott Hicks | 2007 | Starring Catherine Zeta Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin 

Ana Ines Trapp graduated in Communication from the University of Montevideo, Uruguay, where she worked as a book reviewer for El Observador. She currently lives in College Park, Maryland and works for...