Chef Douglas Dale plays leading role with ‘Trattoria’s’ cinematic cuisine

Chef Douglas Dale of Tahoe City's Wolfdale's Restaurant had an experience of a lifetime this past January. Right after the New Year he was given the opportunity to spend the month in San Francisco working as the food stylist on the set of “Trattoria,” an independent feature-film written by Dale's nephew Jason Wolos and Wolos's significant other Dawn Rich.

“Trattoria” is a drama/comedy set in the exciting San Francisco restaurant scene about Chef Sal Sartini and his son who reconnect and heal their past through cooking. Sartini has forgotten why he became a chef in the first place — his love of food and cooking — and loses site of what is really important: family. Chef Sartini must learn with the help of his son to rekindle his passion for cooking and life, and not make the same mistakes again or risk losing everything.

The synopsis of the film truly hit home with Chef Dale as it is a movie inspired by real chefs and the writers' real-life experiences in the family restaurant business — Wolfdale's being one the places.

As Dale took on this unexpected job he knew he would be using his usual tricks of “cuisine unique,” but had no idea what that meant for cinematic purposes. Food in a film is tricky, especially since times have changed and audiences' knowledge has expanded and become sophisticated when it comes to the culinary world on camera and expect realistic images, thanks reality TV.

No more using plastic fruit or undercooked poultry with motor oil on it. Wolos and the producers of “Trattoria” knew the food stylist position was a big role to fill and trusted Chef Dale's amazing culinary abilities.

Cinematic cuisine is so different. Chef Dale and the rest of the “Trattoria” crew quickly learned the food in each scene was not only eaten by the cast, but was just as significant as an actor. Being a restaurant film there was food in a majority of scenes, meaning Dale always had to be standing by with the food looking fresh and ready for the camera, just like an actor. Similar to an actor's wardrobe and makeup the food had to be perfectly consistent, so each take had continuity.

Each take the food has to look just as good as the last. But hey, no pressure.

Dale swiftly adapted to the fact one scene would take several hours to shoot, which meant he had to have a mass quantity of whatever was being shot for each take, especially if the actor was cooking, eating, or deboning the item in that scene. Chef Dale explained the whole process to be, “hurry up and wait” because you have to have all this food ready and looking perfect for the camera, but then once the cameras are rolling you must be absolutely still and silent, allowing no room to work ahead and get ready for the next take or scene.

You can imagine how much different this process is for a chef who's used to a bustling kitchen. Dale took it as a welcome change as he got to slow down and elaborate on each of his “rising-star dishes.” In a way Chef Dale was just like the lead character Chef Sartini as this opportunity allowed him to reconnect with his passion as a chef and share his love for food and cooking.

The film stars LA actors Tony Denison, John Patrick Amedori, Lisa Rotondi and Kandis Erickson, due to come out in 2012. Visit Trattoria's website and become a Facebook fan.

By Christine Dale