The Celluloid Pantry: Bouillabaisse from Marseilles and Our Man Flint (1966)

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Secret Agent Derek Flint (James Coburn) is the kind of man who likes to unwind after a long day by stopping his pulse while lying rigid between two chairs, who travels to Moscow not to watch ballet, but to teach it, and whose lighter has 82 different functions—“83 if you wish to light a cigar.” So it should come as no surprise that he knows a thing or two about French cuisine.

In the over-the-top James Bond spoof, Our Man Flint (1966), the only clue our hero has to stop a criminal organization from taking over the world is a dart retrieved from a murder scene. Chemical analysis, however, shows that the dart carries more than just poison.

“Ah,” Flint declares. “Marseilles. Bouillabaisse.”

His boss (Lee J. Cobb), asks him to explain.

“Well, sir…the usual proportion of garlic to buttered saffron and fennel [in bouillabaisse] is two cloves of garlic, to a pinch of buttered saffron, to a dash of fennel. Now only in a certain small section of Marseilles are these three condiments prepared in these proportions. Now whoever handled that dart was in Marseilles within the last 24 hours.”

And with that, he sets off in his private jet to find just the right French fish stew.

Flint enters a number of fine restaurants in Marseilles, and has a taste. “Mmm. Yes. Check please.” And another, “The finest bouillabaisse in Marseilles, sir.” Flint has a spoonful, and shakes his head. “Merci, Monsieur.” But then, at a hole-in-the-wall burlesque club, he finds it….

Bouillabaisse is a rich, multi-layered stew, traditionally containing at least six types of fish, along with tomatoes, leeks, and other vegetables, and seasoned with a distinctive blend of—yes—garlic, saffron, fennel—and orange zest (Flint left that part out). It's usually served with toasted slices of baguette (croutes) and rouille (a type of mayonnaise seasoned with garlic, saffron, and chili).

Mediterranean culinary writer, Clifford A. Wright goes deep into the history, preparation, and ingredients needed for this complex and delicious dish on his website. Click on this link for a step-by-step account.

- Nora

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The Celluloid Pantry

Nora Maynard is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her recent work has appeared in Salon, Drunken Boat, and The Millions. She recently completed her ninth marathon and her first novel, Burnt Hill Road. Nora wrote for The Kitchn from 2006 to 2011.