Year Released: 2001
Directed by: Maria Ripoll
Starring: Hector Elizondo, Jacqueline Obradors, Elizabeth Pena, Tamara Mello, Nikolai Kinski, Paul Rodriquez, Raquel Welch, Constance Marie
(PG-13, 103 min.
"He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much." A.J. Stanley
Tortilla Soup is a gourmet’s delight, with characters and plot every bit as intriguing and enigmatic as the secret piquancy of the title’s hearty broth. But be warned! Don’t watch it without some green chilies on hand, or at least your favorite Mexican restaurant standing by on call.
Forget the refried frijoles, enchiladas, and tacos you think are the grist of Mexican fare, and open your eyes to fresh huachinango (red snapper) steamed in a banana leaf over hot coals, peppers gathered garden fresh, then thrown naked onto white hot embers, and saffron colored soup that glistens beneath delicate squash blossoms. It’s Sunday afternoon, and you are invited to the table of Martin Naranjo (Elizondo), eminent chef, stoic widower, and tyrannical head of the table.
Irony and tension steam from the platters as well as the savory scents of cilantro and cumin -- not that Martin can tell, about the scents that is, for this master chef has lost his sense of smell and taste. Like Beethoven in his deafness, he must depend on his intuition and memory to create his trademark delicacies, and his grown daughters notice but try to hide the fact that his cooking has lost some of its zing -- which can be said about the whole family, as they are all living but not tasting life.
Martin struggles to hold his family together with the command performance Sunday meals, but his gourmet creations go largely unappreciated by daughters used to dining on such fare. Instead, the main salsa is a family fight that erupts with predictable regularity at the meal’s onset, leaving large bowls of untasted fare like lovely ladies waiting to be asked for a dance.
Carmen has earned the MBA her father wanted for her and is an ultra successful businesswoman. Seemingly liberated – right down to the leopard skin thongs that Daddy still launders for her -- she is strangely unfulfilled. And the giggly sexual trysts with her former boyfriend seem hollow as well. Only when she talks to Gomez, her father’s Cuban restaurant partner, do we learn the source of her frustration.
The eldest, Leticia, jilted some ten years ago, has decided to devote herself to her father and as Gomez so irreverently puts it, her other boyfriend, Jesus Christ. She has left the Catholic Church to become Baptist, and her long pre-dinner prayers pause and then stumble on to more pieties, a source of dry humor. Instead of the parent prolonging the blessing, it is Martin who sounds off with a commanding “Amen” when daughter Leticia stops for breath. Then love bounces into her chemistry classroom window in the form of an aberrant baseball, and it is as sweet as the awakening of a desert with spring rain. Baseball coach Paul Rodriguez’s courtship is as innocent as it is awkward. His first swords to her are, “Nice biceps? Do you work out?”
Hardly in the same class with, “According to the theory of relativity, time does not exist as we know it,” which is how Andy persuades youngest daughter Maribel to have a coffee with him and therefore not be on time for the family dinner. Maribel knows as much about Brazilian music as Andy, who is native of that country, and she is intrigued by his upside down world. He is taking a year off to explore the world before going to college, and amazingly – to Maribel at least –his parents completely approve. When Maribel suggests the same year off to find herself, she hears what has echoed in so many of our ears, not to mention, perhaps, our own vocal cords: “As long as you’re living under my roof, you’ll do what I say.”
And under that roof lives a kitchen to die for – with a stove that hosts, I began to lose count, something like ten burners. In between making masterpieces for his family, Martin makes delicious concoctions for April, the daughter of a single parent neighbor, Yolanda, who is, shall we say, gastronomically challenged. The tomatillos stuffed with guacamole, green corn tamales, and porcupine cookies that fill April’s many tiered lunch tins make her the envy of her school cafeteria, where classmates cluster around her offering trades like so many Wall Street brokers.
When he is not in his glorious kitchen, Martin is sometimes called back to his old restaurant, where he is ushered in like an eminent surgeon to save a dying patient. He strips off his street clothes and the staff suits him up in hospital white as he hurriedly enters a tent that looks operating table clean. The dying patient is the dessert, which has burned to a crisp. Martin rescues the still edible apples, concocts a new pastry from the bread they have on hand, and finishes with the flourish of a French name, Belle Mélange. “It means,” he whispers to Gomez, “a beautiful mess.”
And just when you think that that is exactly what this family will always be, Martin adds a few surprise ingredients, not to his table, but to his life. The results will surprise and delight.
No surprise here in our recipe selection. Tortilla soup it will be. What is somewhat surprising, though, is that some of its ingredients actually capture the different personalities of the Martin’s family.
The snipped cilantro with its distinctive scent reminds us of Chef Martin’s ironic loss of smell, while the onion with its many layers, each revealing something new, is not unlike Carmen peeling back her many selves, one layer at a time with some tears along the way. Of course, the nourishing chicken broth comforts and mothers us like sweet Leticia’s warm brown eyes, while the smoked chipolte, is a rebellious surprise underneath its innocent skin, just as Maribel is. The crunchy tortilla chips are the tilt of Martin’s brow, the crashing plates that punctuate family “discussions,” and the sudden laughter that erupts when least expected.
Pastor Tom's Tortilla Soup
"Okay, I give up! All my members keep asking for my famous tortilla soup recipe. Here it is. Muy Bueno!" --Pastor Tom
16 ounce canned tomatoes
1 medium onion, cut up
2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons snipped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 lbs chicken breast cut up
2 or 3 *chipotle peppers and little adobo sauce
Shredded Monterey jack cheese
Avocados cut up
In blender combine undrained tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro, and sugar. Cover and blend till nearly smooth. Put mixture into a large pot with chicken broth, chicken and chipotle peppers. Bring to boiling; cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Put crunched tortilla chips in a bowl with cheese, avocados, and sour cream (omit if desired). Ladle soup over; serve immediately. Makes 8 or 10 servings.
* “I'm sure people are wondering what is a chipolte pepper. It is a smoked jalapeño. It is usually found in adobo sauce. Do not think the soup will taste good without it. It is the reason why my soup recipe is so good. If you can't find chipolte peppers in your store click here to find the brand I use. By the way this is an original recipe. Tell me what you think.” Pastor Tom
Recipe Source: Tom Brown Ministries