4/26/2013 10:00:00 AM

Oliver Platt on Hosting the Beards, Food Flicks and His Restaurant Critic Bro

News broke yesterday that Stanley Tucci, originally slated to host the annual James Beard Foundation Awards, had to bow out due to a scheduling conflict. But the perfect understudy graciously stepped up to the role: Oliver Platt, who is more than just a man who obviously loves food. The actor also happens to be the brother of New York Magazine food critic Adam Platt. With Platt as emcee, the awards, which will be held May 6 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, will no doubt live up to this year’s theme: Lights! Camera! Taste!

Zagat: What has you most excited about hosting this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards?
Oliver Platt: The James Beard Foundation is a wonderful organization and it was sort of a no-brainer for me. The James Beard House is actually down the street from where I live. It sounds like a fun night and a great thing to do. 

Zagat: Has food always been a big part of your life?
OP: I grew up all over the Far East, but even if I hadn’t, food was heavily socialized in our family. My parents were really aggressive about exploring the cultures that we found ourselves in and food was always part of that. As a diplomat’s kid, you would find a lot of us hanging around the embassy pool and doing everything we could to cling to cheeseburgers and Led Zeppelin. While there’s nothing wrong - far from wrong - with cheeseburgers and Led Zeppelin, we were also found on the back of bicycles going through rice paddies eating [Asian snacks]. 

Zagat: Do you often accompany your brother on restaurant reviews?
OP: It is a huge benefit to have a brother as a food critic. I love going with him. I don’t know how the hell he does it, in terms of the discipline he shows. I wish I could go more. I consider it a real treat. The only caveat when I get an invitation is that despite my best intentions I always end up rolling out of the restaurant. 

Zagat: Are restaurants tipped off by your recognizable presence; that you might be reviewing with your brother?
OP: I don’t know, and I don’t make any assumptions about that. It’s very important for my brother that he respect the tradition of the anonymity of the critic as much as he’s practically able to. If anything, I find myself, as someone who has been “reviewed” as an actor, tending to over-identify with the chef. So I have to be careful because my brother is in the habit of quoting his guests. I learned early on to filter my comments precisely through that dynamic. 

Zagat: What are some of your favorite food-focused films?
OP: I’m very partial to Big Night. And not just because I was a producer on it. Great food movies, funnily enough, are rarely about food. Food usually is just one aspect of these films. Food ends up having a metaphorical resonance or being part of the plot, but what’s interesting is that we end up thinking of them as being “food films.” I think Eat Drink Man Woman is a great food film, especially the credit scene. But I also love Pieces of April and again, not because I was in it, but because it is a movie that is all about getting people together for a meal and the struggle of preparing for it. Another perfect example is Tom Jones. Tom Jones is thought of as being a food film, but it’s just that one scene. And that is unquestionably one of the greatest food scenes of all time, but that scene isn’t even about eating. It is about sex. 

Zagat: Would you play James Beard in a biopic?
OP: I should be so lucky. 

Zagat: How would you prepare for the role?
OP: I can’t pretend to be an expert on the revered Mr. Beard. I would absolutely cook to prepare for the role. But I don’t know if I have the discipline of Mr. Beard as a cook. That would certainly be something I would have to attain. 

Zagat: What are some of your favorite restaurants around the world?
One of the restaurants I will never forget is a famous restaurant in Hong Kong called Jimmy’s Kitchen and that is where my dad took us when we were very, very young to introduce us to escargot. I will never forget that meal. I will eat anywhere that Mario [Batali] has anything to do with, I also love David Chang’s restaurants. When you are in New York, your food radar is so local. But I will tell you this: it is very, very handy having a brother who is a food writer when you need a good restaurant.  

For tickets and more information on the James Beard Foundation Awards, visit www.jamesbeard.org 


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  2. Gracious understudy indeed...very nice interview!