It’s a curious experience getting two-thirds of a way through a movie, only to discover it has finally gotten to the thing it should’ve been about in the first place. Director Lydia Tenaglia spends a lot of time in her documentary about pioneering chef Jeremiah Tower setting up the context for his fame: his 1970s tenure at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, and the launch of his San Francisco restaurant Stars, which collectively inspired a revolution in “new American cuisine.” That background material—which also establishes his privileged but unhappy childhood—involves plenty of dramatized re-creations, talking heads and archival footage, most of which only delivers variations on the idea that Tower was prickly and unknowable even to those closest to him. But then we get to Tower’s decision to come out of retirement in fall 2014 to take over the kitchen of New York’s celebrated Tavern on the Green, and suddenly there’s a real opportunity to follow this intriguing character and actually see the controlling perfectionism we’ve only been hearing about second-hand. This is the main course, and Tenaglia treats it like an after-dinner mint.
Director: Lydia Tenaglia
Producer: Lydia Tenaglia and Anthony Bourdain
Cast: Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Martha Stewart, Ruth Reichl, Richard Neil, Shondale Seymour and Tammy Klein
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent