At first, Spinning Plates goes out of its way to show the differences in the three restaurants the documentary focuses on. We start off at Alinea in Chicago, where ambitious chef Grant Achatz and his crew painstakingly come up with entrees and desserts that usually have only two bites to them—ah, but they are delicious bites. We then head over to Balltown, Iowa, home of Breitbach’s Country Dining, a family-owned-and-operated dining hall complete with a down-home buffet and regulars who have their own keys to the place. Another family owns the final eatery in the movie, La Cocina de Gabby, a Mexican restaurant ran by the Martinez clan of Tucson, Arizona.
As the title oh-so-cleverly suggests, Plates shows these restauranteurs consistently juggling hectic, day-to-day obstacles, as well as their own fears and anxieties, while continuing to dish out dishes for dining-out folk. Over at Alinea, Achatz aspires to outshine his mentors—and get an all-too-important, three-star write-up in dining bible the Michelin Guide—by crafting artful, transcendent meals. And while Breitbach’s keeps on keeping on with the help of their faithful community, conversely, patrons aren’t heading over to La Cocina, as the fam struggles to keep the business afloat.
Essentially, Plates is about people who consistently, relentlessly pour their hearts and souls into a dream, even when painful hurdles get in their way. As the film goes on, some truly unfortunate, unexpected complications fall on each of these restauranteurs, complications which motivate some and almost destroy others.
For his debut feature, writer/director/Food Network vet Joseph Levy creates an endearing, savory balance. He assembles an episodic yet fluid narrative amongst the restaurants while still giving all the rampant foodies shots of meals to moisten over. In the end, as Achatz’s compulsively introspective culinary artist explains what owning a restaurant means to him, we eventually discover that these businesses are more linked to each other than they (and we) realize.
Spinning Plates ultimately shows how all, independently-owned places of fine dining, from an A-list restaurant to that soul-food shack you always end up going to, are bound together in their ongoing mission to keep customers physically—and emotionally—full.