Last night, the ever-excellent Stranger Than Fiction film series at New York City’s IFC Center screened The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World. As the title suggests, the subject was the Guinness World Records–certified West Lake Restaurant, a sprawling 5,000-seat restaurant in China's Hunan province. While the documentary captured the dizzying scale of West Lake—five kitchens, 300 chefs, 1,000 staffers serving 700 chickens, 1,200 ducks, 2,500 pounds of pork and 2,200 pounds of chiles per week—the film, as its editor Jean Tsien said, was really “about democracy in China.” Tsien noted that West Lake's lavish banquets, weddings and celebrations, featuring scores of elaborately prepared dishes, were unimaginable just a generation ago. Even the simple joy of dining out was impossible, since people were rationing cooking oil. Director Weijun Chen's internationally acclaimed, award-winning 2007 documentary Please Vote For Me covered similar territory, albeit inside a primary school in central China. While Ang Lee’s masterwork Eat Drink Man Woman will remain my favorite food film, Biggest is a wonderful documentary, and very much worth watching.
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