This Friday sees the release of a charming independent film named Tasting Menu celebrating exquisite food and the people who travel far to enjoy it. The feature centers around one of the greatest restaurants in the world (based in the Catalonia region of Spain) on its closing night. Think El Bulli but not quite. This fictional story was co-written and directed by Roger Gual.
Tasting Menu introduces an array of global actors portraying the international patrons of a momentous evening — from the Irish grace of Fionnula Flanagan (The Others, Waking Ned Devine) to Spain’s handsome Jan Cornet (Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In) to the Japanese precision of Togo Igawa (Memoirs of a Geisha, The Last Samurai). I’ve left out many other actors who have equal gravitas, but suffice it to day, that altogether, I imagine at least 4 languages are spoken in this tale of a VIP feast beside the ocean.
One of the women who leads this ensemble cast is a rising presence named Claudia Bassols. Her physique is model-worthy. Her demeanor is affable, almost like the girl-next-door you can warm up to. Claudia has spent a lifetime cooking up her own diverse experiences — with studies ranging from acting to musical comedy, the Spanish actress pursued her efforts in Barcelona, Paris, London, and Los Angeles. The tenacious actress also let loose in a band called The End which paid her bills during arduous auditions. During her world travels, the passionate Spaniard accumulated 6 languages under her belt — Spanish, Catalan, English, Swedish, French, and Italian. It’s no wonder the striking polyglot was destined for adventures.
Maybe that’s why in 2008, Claudia was asked to hang out with Gwyneth Paltrow and foodie heavyweights Mario Batali and Mark Bittman for a web show entitled Spain, On the Road Again, which traveled into the far corners of Spain’s gastronomic delights. Afterwards, she was invited to appear on Iron Chef a few times following the On The Road Again’s 13 episode series. Esquire finally genuflected in 2010 by naming her one of Esquire’s Sexiest Women Alive Atlas.
Flash forward to 2014, as Claudia stars in this months Tasting Menu. “You know the food thing is so funny” she laughs as we begin to chat. “It just follows me around in a lovely, natural way.” In the film, Claudia meets her former lover, who made their reservation one year earlier (before splitting up). The couple reunites for this once-in-a-lifetime meal on closing night. Each of the tables in the room have their own emotional baggage to boot (including the chef and restaurant owner), making this a gumbo of clever conversations amidst culinary delights.
Claudia took a few minutes to chat with me about her passions, Spain, tradition, and that universal theme that keeps chasing her — food.
Jauretsi: Tasting Menu swims around multiple cultures, which is slightly metaphorical to you as an individual. How has the knowledge of speaking different languages affected your career choices?
Claudia Bassols: For me I’ve always felt really, really lucky that I was able to learn languages from a very small age. You know it’s given me freedom. More and more in the world we live in, it’s about differences actually being good. I see it as something that adds value. I love that about the movie, because that is real life. I see that it allows you to immerse in different cultures easier, you know because it especially opens up the ability to be able to communicate with each other. I love that people can go to the movie and enjoy the different languages, yet realize what’s [ultimately] important is for each character is to communicate. It’s always about the true message people want to give each other which is beyond words.
J: Yeah, it’s like basically getting to the root of the matter despite what tongue it is, right? In terms of the crafts you’ve developed beyond acting, I noticed that you have a graduates from musical theatre. Can you tell me what roles music plays in your life?
C: It’s humungous in the sense that music is what inspires me. I feel that [music] kind of just connects you immediately. You don’t need a filter for it to affect you. I’ve always found it super inspiring all my life. I love singing, I love listening to music, I love when I watch films the way music kind of brings it all together. I love the music in our movie, by the way. I thought it was really cool, and just adds that extra layer that makes people feel lighter.
J: Yes, it seemed like the music is almost another character in the film. Let’s discuss the web show, Spain: On the Road Again. Of all the cities in the world, why film the show in Spain?
C: I think that Spain has so much to offer. It’s so diverse, it truly is. It’s like every region you go to is different in the sense that there’s a different language in some parts, there is a different kind of weather that provides different ingredients and a different approach to food. I feel like it opened up the endless possibilities of how much people can discover, and I’ve actually encountered lots of people that through watching the show got inspired to go and lose themselves in Spain. Instead of going to one or two destinations, [some viewers] actually were inspired take a little road trip and actually enjoy the fact that you get so much from a very little area, you know.
J: In terms of wine, there is a scene where the waiter attempts to serve your character some wine. Your character asks him to explain the selection. Instead of describing the wine production, he eloquently relates the emotional significance of the wine’s taste to enhance the spirit of the evening. What’s your relationship to food and wine and how it colors your life?
C: It is huge. Well, first of all, I want to mention that actually the man who plays the sommelier in that scene is amazing, because he actually IS a sommelier. We were all in awe because the director had told him to improvise, and he just said these things. We were all like, “Wow”. He’s a natural.
J: Oh my goodness. I mean it was so effortless and unreal to imagine an actor reading lines. That makes sense… his honest delivery. Great story.
C: The thing that is so beautiful about it, is that he is truly passionate in real life about [wine]. It just came easy to him to express that, and more and more I’m realizing that in life, and it kind of goes with what you’re asking about food. If you’re passionate about something, for real, it just comes natural. I guess all my life I’ve enjoyed food and eating and all that is around it.
It’s funny because when I did that show Spain: on the Road Again, I did discover lots of things by being able to see where there is a lot of family owned businesses passed down generation to generation, the love and the detail that would go into keeping those places alive. It’s not easy. To keep those things going in the world we live now. It takes a lot of courage… those small family businesses that rely on the earth and rely on weather and all of those conditions for survival and to keep everything going and yet there’s something that I found super inspiring because even when it’s hard, they never lost that appreciation for it. You could absolutely tell they loved it, and there was love in it. They had passion like this man in the movie. Regarding me with food, I guess it’s always made me feel joyful because it’s usually a time that you can give yourself to just slow down, whether you are alone, or with friends. It’s a time to stop for a second, treat yourself nicely, and enjoy a delicious meal. Only then, can it start appealing to you, like it awakens your senses.
J: It almost seems that cooking acts as this instrument or device to create folklore for families. I like that idea.
C: Yeah! I agree, like it brings people together. You know and it’s so funny because whenever you talk to people about their lives, it’s always about the smell of something, or the taste of something. It’s the fastest way to bring them to something relevant in their life. Whether it’s something the grandmother made or something else, immedietely, it’s like boom! Suddenly, they become two years old, and remembering tons of stuff. I always find that amazing.
J: Well said. What is next in terms of challenges that you seek for your career?
C: Hah. That’s always interesting, I mean I really feel like I’m an explorer. I love new things and adventure and I don’t know. I’m open to see what comes next, you know, I do love film. I’ve also been thinking lately about other possibilities. So, nothing specific. I’m pretty open and excited about new projects.
J: Basically, you’re gonna free style.
Tasting Menu opens April 18, 2014 in:
New York (Quad Cinema)
Los Angeles (Beverly Hills, Music Hall)
Encino, CA (Town Center 5) – 4/18/2014
Santa Ana, CA (South Coast Village 3) – 4/18/2014
Berkeley, CA (Elmwood) – 5/9/2014
San Francisco, CA (Opera Plaza Cinemas 4) – 5/9/2014
Coral Gables, FL (University of Miami, Bill Cosford Cinema) – 5/23/2014
Santa Fe, NM (Jean Cocteau Cinema) – 5/23/2014