Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, B
Rated R, 102 minutes
Celebrity chefs are a dime a dozen these days, with the likes of Gordon Ramsay to Rachael Ray to Paula Deen, all of whom only fuel our preoccupation with food. They all owe a debt to one of the first celebrity chefs, Jeremiah Tower, who is profiled in the talky yet fascinating new documentary "Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent."
After rising to prominence in California cuisine in the 1970s, Jeremiah Tower becomes one of America's first celebrity chefs. After a resurgence, he retreats to Mexico to rediscover himself before reemerging stronger than ever.
"Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent" is directed by Lydia Tenaglia and produced by Anthony Bourdain, among the many chefs, friends and family who appear in the engaging doc about one of the first celebrity chefs, Jeremiah Tower, a charming and complex figure who rose to fame in the U.S. in the 1970's and 1980's. Tower, who had an upper-class yet unusual upbringing and went to Harvard, had a passion for food, getting his start with Alice Waters' famed California restaurant, Chez Panisse, then branching out with his own acclaimed place, Stars, in San Francisco.
Tower, who had a fantastic flair for the dramatic, disappeared at the height of his fame to Mexico due to burnout. Along the way, he no doubt helped inspire the many who appear in the documentary, including Martha Stewart, Mario Batali, Wolgang Puck, and Bourdain, not to mention scores of friends and family, many of whom claim not to know the real man behind the chef. "Tower" is as appealing as many of the dishes he cooks up, though it seems to only skim the surface of who he really is.
"The Last Magnificent" starts with some unnecessary dramatizations of his childhood, which seem more like filler, and occasionally veers toward excessively talky. It's most fascinating seeing the archival footage and dishing on the behind-the-scenes of running and operating a high-profile restaurant such as Stars or the later Tavern on the Green, which he tried to (unsuccessfully) rescue. It's interesting how figures many such as Ramsay and Deen, among many, who have eclipsed him in popularity, but then Tower existed in another time and another place, before the internet, social media and cable TV, not to mention he, as in his own words, "pissed a lot of people off."
"Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent" is a delectable dish, though it has too much puff pastry and not enough meat. It will most appeal to foodies, who'll eat this up more than anyone.