The notion of the temperamental chef has become a staple in entertainment thanks in part to reality television. We have been connditioned to view their expressions of rage as a reflection of the high standards that culinary geniuses have. Jesse Zigelstein’s debut feature Nose to Tail centres around such a chef but forgoes the sensational for something more nuanced. Zigelstein’s film serves up a dish that is full of bitter truths, which its protagonist is reluctant to swallow.
After ten years in the restaurant business, culinary wizard Dan (Aaron Abrams, Hannibal) has found himself in tough times. His restaurant is three months behind in rent and has lost its chef de cuisine (Brandon McKnight), whom Dan was grooming as his protégé, to a competitor. Rubbing salt on this increasingly growing wound is the fact that a trendy food truck, with a large social media following, has set up shop across the street.
A Turned-up Nose
Scoffing at fusion food on wheels, and the online bloggers who champion them, Dan is steadfast in his beliefs that these trends are fleeting. In Dan’s eyes, true craft cannot be achieved through culinary schools or apps, but rather years of hands-on experience. It is this stubborn aversion to change, and his excessive alcohol consumption, that has led to his spiral.
Of course, Dan is too blinded by his ego to take any responsibility for the predicament that he is in. The walls may be closing in but, in his mind, all he needs is a temporary sturdy stick to keep them at bay. This potential lifesaver comes in the form of a wealthy investor who he plans to wine and dine at his restaurant in a few hours…assuming he can keep it all together.
Keeping his lens closely on Dan, Zigelstein captures the suffocating nature of the chef’s descent. He emphasized the downward spiral to great effect when Dan momentarily loses his cool in the walk-in freezer. In observing the frantic ways in which Dan attempts to juggle various fragile balls in the air, it becomes clear that Nose to Tail is marking the end of an era: a time when men with specific talents viewed themselves as undisputed kings of their self-made castles.
Serving up toxic masculinity
Dan is belligerent, self-centred, and is used to playing by his own rules. This includes toying with the emotions of his restaurant hostess and occasional lover, Chloe (Lara Jean Chorostecki). However, as Zigelstein skilfully shows, the uncaring demeanour that built Dan’s empire will ultimately burn it down. As is common with the Don Cherry’s of the world, Dan fails to realize that the world has evolved around him. He simply failed to keep up.
Dan’s defiant “I would do the same all over again” stance may fill him with a source of pride, but only isolates him further from those who once believed in him. What makes Dan such a riveting character is the fact that he is gambling on a miracle shot in a game that the ended long before he stepped on the court. Aaron Abrams takes an unlikable individual, whose toxicity masculinity has clearly been enabled by others, and brings rich layers of complexity to his flaws. Nose to Tail does not celebrate men like Dan, but rather mourns for what they ultimately become.
Nose to Tail opens in Toronto at the Carlton Cinema on Feb. 14. It also screens in Calgary and Winnipeg.