If one were to use the term “food spa,” as opposed to the obscene-sounding “food porn,” it would apply to “The Raw and the Cooked,” a holistic-minded documentary that touts nutrition as much as taste. German helmer Monika Treut, who has shot two docus and one fiction feature in Taiwan, shows an affinity for the island’s cultural diversity, which she represents through a cornucopia of regional cuisines and their religious, indigenous, ethnic Chinese and emerging ecological influences. Compact, slick production makes a scrumptious package for tube consumption and festival sidebars.
Treut narrates the pic herself in two versions, one German, one English. Stopping first in Taipei, the helmer’s culinary tour circles the island, then heads inland to central Taiwan for the final destination. Introducing traditional Chinese restaurant Shin Yeh atop the city’s Taipei 101 skyscraper, followed by a mathematically precise lesson on how to eat soup-filled xiaolongbao at Din Tai Fung, Taiwan’s most celebrated dumpling franchise, the pic unpromisingly looks set to be a “Taiwanese Cuisine for Dummies.”
Thankfully, the crew’s aficionado credentials assert themselves before long, as the film digs deeper and deeper into obscure joints in the middle of nowhere, places even most Taiwan residents may never have heard of. Among the six locations visited (Hualien, Shitiping, Orchid Island, Kaohsiung, Hsinpa, Puli), the piece de resistance would be Shitiping, where aboriginal chef Ladibisse makes a bouillabaisse from inside a tree trunk, cooked by heated stones.
Final bash is set at Jindou Restaurant in Pulin, where fusion chef Liu Heng-hong presents spectacular edible objects such as roses, paper, bitter gourds, water bamboo and ailanthus prickly ash, wrapping up the trim 82-minute pic and leaving auds hungry for more.
Treut, better known for her explorations of feminism, gender and sexuality, refrains from forcing any connections with these subjects and avoids a dry, ethnographic approach. Quite simply, the food speaks for itself. Even when purveying and celebrating burgeoning enterprises and ecological produce initiatives, Treut finds room for droll humor, as when a straight-faced organic vegetable grower rattles off the vintage years of his barrels of fermenting human excrement, as if walking someone through his wine cellar.
Brightly textured HD lensing by Bernd Meiners captures picturesque natural scenery along the way, while location sound deliberately picks up cacophonous background noise that lends a strong sense of place. Spontaneous chanting and concert perfs by aboriginals, as well as ancient Hakka tunes, blend seamlessly with a contempo cello score by German composers Michael Dommes and Ramon Kramer.