“Spinning Plates” is an entertaining documentary about three American restaurants and the wildly passionate people who run them. Grant Achatz is a fiercely determined “molecular gastronomist” who wants nothing more than to earn his Chicago-based Alinea a coveted three-star rating in the 2011 Michelin Guide. Mike Breitbach runs the 161-year-old Breitbach’s Country Dining just outside Dubuque, Iowa, not for profit but because the townspeople love it so much. And Francisco Martinez runs La Cocina de Gabby, a Mexican restaurant in Tucson to feed his wife Gabby’s passion for cooking.
The restaurants could not possibly be more different, or so it would seem, but what “Spinning Plates” does so masterfully is showcase how each of these establishments really aren’t that dissimilar at all. Sure, Alinea serves the sort of fancy-dining food you’re not sure whether to photograph or wolf down, and, yes, the other two serve regional comfort food meant to inspire other forms of conversation. But what unites them is a hardcore passion for cooking for the masses, a feeling that is evident in each of the chefs and one you, too, may feel watching them get caught up in the moment.
“Spinning Plates” offers plenty to chew on, specifically the hardships these chefs have overcome in their paths to success, some of which are still being paved. Achatz battled cancer that threatened to rob him of his sense of taste, the Breitbach’s overcame not one, but two tragedies that led to a greater appreciation for the citizens of Balltown, Iowa, and the Martinezes struggle to turn a profit in their mostly-vacant dining space, most likely because La Cocina de Gabby is in desperate need of a Robert Irvine-style restaurant redo.
It’s unclear whether every viewer will be inspired by the stories in “Spinning Plates,” but the movie’s bittersweet approach had me at hello and left me hungry for more. It’s a brief movie, but the people it showcases and the stories they tell remain intriguing throughout. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to make the five-hour trek to Breitbach’s Country Dining for some of that fantastic-looking fried chicken everybody kept raving about in the film.
★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Not rated, 93 minutes.
Director: Joseph Levy.