March 23, 2004

'Big Night' party will raise funds for film series

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. - The menu of what Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert dubbed "one of the great food movies" will be the star of an after-show party designed to raise funds for the annual International Film Series sponsored by Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Honors Program.

Chef Lasse Sorensen will recreate the repast featured in the 1996 Sundance Festival winner "Big Night" Monday, April 19, at his De Soto restaurant, Tom's Place. A free screening of the film, open to all, will take place at 7 p.m. on the 18th in SIUC's Life Science III auditorium.

Starring Stanley Tucci of TV series "Murder One" fame (and a Tucci family recipe for a little-known Calabrian dish called timpano), "Big Night" tells the story of immigrant brothers trying to make a go of an authentic Italian restaurant in a Chef Boyardee world. With the bank threatening to foreclose their failing "Paradise," the brothers stake the restaurant's future on one big night: they will invite the famous Italian-American singer Louis Prima (an honest-to-gosh historical figure, by the way) and spend everything they have to create the perfect menu to feed him. His patronage and the subsequent publicity will redeem the "Paradise."

The course-by-course feast serves as the film's finale. Wrote Ebert in his review, "As these dishes are presented and unveiled, the audience goes into a kind of reverie. I was reminded of other movies where food suggests the possibility of an ideal state: 'Like Water for Chocolate,' 'Tampopo' and 'Babette's Feast.'"

"Babette's Feast," the food film against which all others take their measure, inspired SIUC's first food'n'film fundraiser two years ago. Sorensen, a consultant who helped create and prepare the delicacies dished up in that film, recreated the menu for a full house of area film fans and foodies.

"It was a great experience, and good for us, too" said Scott R. Furtwengler who oversees the film series. "Some of the people who attended had no idea we had a film series - they were there because they were on the restaurant's mailing list or they'd seen the publicity."

For many who saw "Big Night" in 1996, the star of the film was the timpano, 24 pounds of pasta, sauces, veggies, eggs, meatballs, sausage, spices and cheese baked for hours in a pastry bowl and carried in by two men. Most film reviewers mentioned it ("There is a moment in the movie when a timpano is sliced open, and the audience sighs with simple delight," wrote Ebert), and after the film came out, Web-based recipe sites reported a deluge of requests for the drum-shaped concoction - so many, in fact, that Tucci's mother, who served as the film's food consultant, came out with a cookbook that included it.

There'll be timpano at Tom's Place as well - just on a smaller scale.

"It's a dramatic presentation, but when you cut it up into cake-slice servings, it loses some of the drama on the plate, so Lasse is going to make individual timpani," Furtwengler said.

Also on tap: antipasto; chicken consommé; risotto; Cornish hen; poached salmon; roast suckling pig, biscotti and wine. Lots and lots of wine.

"Anyone who's ever been to one of Lasse's wine dinners knows that it becomes a community event," Furtwengler said.

"People throughout the dining room talk to each other, get to know each other. It becomes more of a party than an individual dining experience."

Tickets for the event, available through Furtwengler (618/453-2824 or, cost $180, of which $100 goes to the film series.

"It's because of the proceeds from the last dinner that we were able to purchase the projector that we're using and the lens for it," Furtwengler said.

"It also helped us pay for several of our activities. The series is sponsored solely from donations - we never charge admission."

Would-be diners must purchase their tickets by April 16 to allow Sorensen to plan his food and wine purchases.

"We're looking forward to a big night ourselves," Furtwengler said.

Expanding cultural outreach efforts is among the goals of Southern@150, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.