From cocky waiters in Servitude to sophisticated restauranteurs in his latest project The Missing Ingredient: What is the Recipe for Success?, you would think Michael Sparaga is determined to cover every aspect of the food and hospitality industry. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sparaga’s next movie was about napkin origami.
On the surface of the underrated comedy Servitude (directed by Warren P. Sonoda), Michael Sparaga’s script bathed in dirty words delivered by a pessimistic waiting staff. However, underneath all the gags, we found a sincere message about the bond created the workplace. In this context, the film calmed down its naughty side.
Sparaga (now in the director’s chair) works the same charm in The Missing Ingredient: What is the Recipe for Success?. The documentary tells the story of two Manhattan restaurants: a historic dining institution named Gino’s, and a thriving joint named Pescatore. At Pescatore, go-getter owner Charles Devigne observes his dining room and ponders for a solution that would put his restaurant “on the map”. He considers Gino’s, and plans to replicate one of their traditions in order to capture the same success. On the Upper East Side, regular customers celebrate family and quality food at Gino’s. For some of those patrons, this will either be their second or third visit that day.
However, the fate of Gino’s is revealed later on in The Missing Ingredient and flips the script in Charles’ direction. Charles, who appears in the film as a well-meaning, honest businessman, makes decisions that clash with other opinions and even the audience’s perception of success. But, Charles is bold, and his idea to slightly imitate a legend might actually be a smart move. Then again, maybe not.
This is a struggle that plays late into The Missing Ingredient – it’s placed perfectly on Sparaga’s timeline. Before then, the audience is treated to different takes on the dining scene. People who have connections to Gino’s walk the audience through the lovely eccentricities of their favourite restaurant and describe how these details helped shape the establishment (for instance, the thick house account book which logs over 600 loyal customers). Movie goers are also treated to outsider opinions of how intrinsic touches truly benefit a service. My favourite chats were with the owner and executive chef of Gotham Bar and Grill – they’re honest and really funny.
The Missing Ingredient is also heartfelt and brutally funny when Sparaga allows his subjects to completely open up about the current state of dining institutions. A montage of esteemed food connoisseurs commenting on a newly erected cupcake joint had me laughing out loud, which helped soften the blow during some emotional recollections during the latter half of the film.
The Missing Ingredient: What is the Recipe for Success? is a jazzy flick that perfectly answers the question its title is asking. Some movie goers who caught last year’s crowd-pleasing Deli Man may feel some déjà vu, but only because they’ll recognize this particular scene – The Missing Ingredient showcases much more.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie