Los Angeles chef Evan Funke could have followed in his father Alex Funke’s Oscar-winning footsteps doing special effects photography for movies like “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” But instead, Funke became the king of handmade pasta, starting out at Spago and Rustic Canyon and then opening his own restaurants, the now-closed Bucato and wildly popular Felix in Venice.
His obsessive journey to mastering the pasta craft is detailed in “Funke,” the first full-length documentary from Tastemade Studios. When the Santa Monica-based production company launched five years ago, it focused on YouTube videos and an app that allowed users to make professional-looking food videos. Tastemade evolved to launching its own digital channel, serving up viral food and travel videos on Snapchat and Facebook and even selling a tailgate cooking show to the Cooking Channel.
Now the content company known for bite-sized videos like “Struggle Meals” and “Tiny Kitchen” has gone in the opposite direction, producing a feature-length documentary that premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival earlier this week. Submarine Entertainment is currently securing distribution for the doc.
Director Gabriel Taraboulsy, a regular contributor to Tastemade and fan of Funke’s previous restaurant Bucato, said that as soon as he heard the chef was taking over the Joe’s space on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, he knew he wanted to make the story of Funke’s comeback.
“To me the sudden closure of Bucato was inexplicable,” Taraboulsy said. The crushing blow of having to walk away from Bucato and the lengthy, expensive remodeling of Felix to become the pasta palace of his dreams makes for plenty of dramatic tension in the doc, while close-up scenes of the meticulous construction of orecchiette, agnolotti and pappardelle are sure to incite hunger.
For Funke, it wasn’t always easy to have a camera around during the difficult moments of Felix’s birth. “I’m no stranger to cameras, I grew up around movie sets,” he said. “But having somebody chronicle your life — I don’t think I was necessarily prepared for the intimacy or depth.”
“Gab knows how to push my buttons,” Funke continued. “I got pissed a lot.” “Which was great,” Taraboulsy interjects. Like many chefs, Funke is a perfectionist prone to outbursts when things don’t go right.
“Funke” pays special care to filming the chef crafting the handmade fresh pasta that became his passion while working at Spago. The film also travels to Bologna, Italy, where Funke visits the pasta maestra who helped him perfect his technique. Funke folds the numerous shapes so fast that Taraboulsy says he needed to make the process more visible for the viewer.
“Evan had a massive catalog of how many shapes he could make, but if he’s just left to make it himself, it’s almost invisible,” Taraboulsy said. “We knew we had to slow down the magic trick. I wanted to see just how the hands moved, going from a nondescript ball of dough into one of these oeuvres. We kind of went high art on pasta photography.”
“For me to slow it down so the naked eye can see it was difficult. Each one has their own fingerprints,” Funke agreed.
Funke, who grew up in Pacific Palisades, said great restaurants aren’t a brand-new thing for the city. “The people who live in L.A. have always been ready and always been open to good restaurants. We just happen to be in vogue right now.” L.A. has become a magnet for good chefs, he said, for its pristine produce but also for its restaurant community, which is less aggressively competitive than in other cities. “The pendulum has swung from San Francisco and New York, it’s our time,” Funke said.
Indeed, Mozza’s Nancy Silverton and Animal’s Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo collegially put in appearances in the doc talking about Funke’s pasta passion. Even his former bosses from Rustic Canyon, Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan, go on camera, despite still not quite understanding why the chef behind their signature hamburger just quit one night with little explanation.
Why focus on just one chef and one restaurant? “I hope telling the story of one of its good restaurants helps Los Angeles ascend even quicker,” said Taraboulsy. “I want to help get it the attention its chefs deserve.”
Watch an exclusive clip from the film below: