A chef and his new lady-love pursue his dream of his own restaurant and their very own “Michelin star” in “A Taste of Hunger,” a Pinteresque Danish melodrama as frosty as flash-frozen ginger.
It’s built around “Game of Thrones” hunk Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Katrine Greis-Rosenthal (“The Command”), who have chemistry but little heat in carrying this tony, stylish story of life in a high end Copenhagen eatery.
What’s “Pinteresque” here is the way their story is told, out of order (like “Betrayal”), in a shuffled succession of brittle chapters that take their titles from elements of “taste” — “Sour,” “Sweet,” “Heat,” “Salt” and the like.
We see them crackling through a night at their poshly-appointed, over-staffed Malus Restaurant, with the short-tempered perfectionist Carsten humiliating a cook for not remembering that “the only way the chef knows good food from bad” (in Danish with English subtitles) is “TASTING.”
There’s a Michelin star at stake, as there was one suspicious “solo diner” in their seatings for the night, a dead giveaway a Michelin critic/judge has made a stop. “A Taste” takes us back to how the chef and his inspiration, co-owner and cheerleading “I want it all” wife Maggie first met — a “meet cute” at another meal the perfectionist tossed aside to start over on. We see their ensuing family lives, the monomaniacal neglect that endangers the marriage and the children it produces, and surf through their panic over that pivotal night, the measures Maggie is willing to take to earn a “do over” from the make-or-break Michelin man.
A Michelin star can “the portal to paradise, or the road to ruin,” one of Carsten’s mentors tells him. Trained in Japan, the Dane is master of every infused, gelled and nitrogen flash-frozen trend in modern gastronomy. But it takes Maggie to focus him, master the presentation on the plate and ensure the place’s pampered, exclusive vibe.
Just looking at Malus, one can see their business model is nuts and that not getting the Michelin seal of approval and cachet could be the end of them.
“What do we do now? Open a McDonald’s?”
I was more interested in this story than invested in it. Telling the tale out of order reveals stresses that will either break them or bond them as a couple. There are no other real options as for outcomes.
Coster-Waldau masters the posture of the master chef, the Emeril lean-in-so-close-your-nose-almost-touches-the-food thing. He’s most convincing in the snappish meltdowns, which happen more because we know the stress such high-stakes chefs live under than due to any motivations we see on screen.
Greis-Rosenthal brings coy sexiness to their “meet cute,” making Maggie another version of that blunt-to-the-point-of-coarse “modern woman” trope, someone who gets what she wants because she says what she wants and she’s beautiful enough to be certain of never getting turned down.
But the two of them don’t do much to set off sparks together. The picture has warm flirtation, but no sexual heat. The domestic scenes have a perfunctory formality that makes what we’re watching feel pre-digested.
Yes, there are surprises and a scene crackles, here and there. But the tony haute cuisine milieu can fool you into thinking that there’s more to this than the chic, perfectly-presented appetizer this is.
Rating: unrated, sex, profanity
Cast: Katrine Greis-Rosenthal and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
Credits: Directed by Christoffer Boe, scripted by Tobias Lindholm and Christoffer Boe. A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:44