It’s quite possible there are more rock-star chefs than actual rock stars roaming our world — and kitchen wizard Jake Bickelhaupt certainly seems to have the skill set and the personality worthy of that rock-star chef label.
Just ask him.
Writer-director Jack C. Newell’s “42 Grams” is a smartly executed, well-photographed and at times almost painfully raw profile of Jake and his wife and business partner Alexa as they open an underground restaurant in their Uptown home and eventually go public with 42 Grams, which earned two Michelin stars after only 10 months, kept that coveted rating for three straight years — and then abruptly closed last summer, with no explanation from the owners.
Based on what we see in “42 Grams,” perhaps the place collapsed under the weight of the chef’s massive ego.
I don’t want to be too hard on Jake, who has a certain rough charisma and would no doubt be interesting as hell if you met him at a party or were seated next to him on a flight. But throughout this briskly paced (82 minutes) story, he often comes across as a near-parody of the self-absorbed, hot-tempered, obsessive-compulsive food genius who’s in love with the sound of his own voice.
The opening titles tell us Jake “has worked at some of the best restaurants in the world, including Charlie Trotter’s, Schwa and Alinea. Disillusioned with the culinary world, he quit in 2011. With his wife, Alexa, he started an underground restaurant, Sous Rising, in Uptown, Chicago. Every weekend, they invite 10 strangers into their home for a 15-course tasting menu.”
As Jake explains it, “Underground dining is an unlicensed restaurant event, with food.”
It’s also illegal, but no, we never get a scene of Chicago’s finest swooping in and breaking up the joint as if it were a speakeasy in 1927.
It’s pretty impressive to see Jake create sophisticated, carefully constructed dishes in a nice but basically standard-issue home kitchen. It’s strange and gutsy to see Jake and Alex open their home to strangers, who crowd into the place and swoon over the offerings. (One sixtyish man corrals Jake, tells him he’s eaten at the finest restaurants the world over — and the meal he’s just consumed is as good as it gets.)
Wearing his trademark V-neck T-shirts (usually white, but sometimes black) and literally getting his hands on nearly everything he creates, Jake consistently reminds us he doesn’t have a formal education in the culinary arts; he just cooks and creates and cooks and creates.
We get a time-lapse look at one of Jake’s creations, set to almost reverential music, as the titles explain the ingredients as they’re added to the dish: “puffed barley, grapefruit, mugolio (pinecone bud syrup), cultured barley porridge, enoki mushroom, petite thyme … micro chervil.”
Ta-da! OK, so, I wouldn’t half of those ingredients if they fell on my head, but it sure looks good.
When a chicken joint called Chester’s in Uptown shuts down (the sign says “Closed Due to a Family Emergency”), Jake and Alexa swoop in and take over the place, with Jake saying they’re going to take “an old fried chicken joint [and] turn it into a fine dining destination.”
Alexa explains the restaurant’s name “is a riff on the premise the soul weighs 21 grams. Forty-two grams represents what both Jake and I bring to the space, 21 plus 21 equals 42.”
Yep, I remember that whole weight-of-the-soul thing from the 2003 film “21 Grams.”
Jake talks candidly about his problems with alcohol. He’s aware of how difficult he can be — but there’s not a whole lot of evidence he’s taking steps to change that.
When the call comes from Michelin and Jake learns 42 Grams has indeed been awarded the two-star rating he had boldly sought (shades of Bradley Cooper going for a third Michelin star in the fictional “Burnt”), Jake breaks down and says, “I’m just happy someone recognized what I thought I am. So it does validate.”
That’s excellent and we’re happy for him — but Jake says this while his wife is right next to him, trying to get him to clink champagne glasses, telling him, “Love you, congratulations” and not hearing “Love you” back.
I’m no relationship expert, but note to men: It’s probably not a great idea to talk about how someone has finally recognized you and validated you when you’re in the same room with your significant other. They might take it the wrong way.
Zaxie Films presents a documentary directed by Jack C. Newell. No MPAA rating. Running time: 82 minutes. Available on iTunes, Amazon and other streaming services, and opening Saturday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.