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Culinary Training
With so many scenes taking place over a hot stove at 22 Bleecker—pots clanging, waiters rushing in and out, and Kate and Nick's personal drama unfolding amidst the fast-paced routine of preparing dinner for a restaurant full of patrons—Hicks wanted the actors to be at ease with the tempo of a professional kitchen. "I always strive for realism. In this setting, it was especially important for the actors to feel as though they were really preparing these dishes and coping with the stresses of their environment. It was essential that their actions be fluid and natural in order to keep the emphasis where it belongs—on the story,” the director says. Just as important, Heysen points out, was that shots of Nick chopping onions and Kate garnishing plates ring true, because, "with everyone around the world watching The Food Network, audiences are extremely savvy and would know if someone was faking it.”

Toward that end, Hicks cast professional line chefs to serve as 22 Bleecker's onscreen kitchen staff, hired numerous culinary and restaurant consultants and arranged hands-on training with genuine masters for his stars.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart spent two weeks with celebrity chef Michael White, who tailored his instruction to their characters' specialized roles: for Zeta-Jones, as head chef, an emphasis on preparing sauces, pan-tossing small items, plating and preparing garnish; and for Eckhart, as sous-chef, the more practical aspects of chopping vegetables and sautéing, cleaning and butchering fish and meat. Following the edict that the mark of a good chef is not only a flair for food but a command of his domain, both learned safety basics and the fine points of handling knives, grasping superheated pot handles with towels and deftly navigating the cramped space while simultaneously working, talking and cooking.

Eckhart, who has worked as a waiter and bartender but never a chef, found the curriculum fascinating, although, in addition to onions, carrots and mushrooms, he cut his fingers numerous times during his two-day practice with the knife. This was par for the course, he was assured by White, who, after 16 years of cooking professionally, still lives by the rule of assuming that every surface in a kitchen is hot.

Even Abigail Breslin learned to flip pancakes and pare vegetables under the tutelage of French Culinary Institute chef Lee Anne Wong and recounts how, during one scene, she got a little carried away with her newfound skill. "I was peeling asparagus. I got down to the part where it becomes white and just kept going until it got really skinny and Scott started laughing. He said, ‘You don't have to turn it into a toothpick; it's still asparagus.'”

Outside the kitchen, Patricia Clarkson took a crash course on how to handle front-of-house duties with aplomb from Daniele Sbordi, then general manager of New York City's renowned Fiamma Osteria, and likens it to managing a theater. "When you're running a restaurant, you have to be on top of everything: reservations, stock, orders, staff and the wine selection, not to mention the preferences and personalities of the VIPs coming in, and be ready to diffuse any potential situation. You get there early to prepare and coach the waiters on the day's specials, and when that door opens and people start coming in, it's like the curtain going up.”

Speaking of theater, one confrontational scene between Kate and an ill-mannered customer afforded Zeta-Jones the opportunity to add a neat trick to her professional repertoire: the classic tablecloth pull, in which a cloth is yanked cleanly out from under a full load of place settings with minimum spillage. Its success depends largely upon confidence and timing. "It was one of the best shooting days of my life,” she declares. "I didn't get it straightaway, but once I did, I had so much fun I wanted to do it all the time. Now I can bet people at parties that I can w

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