What Was the Best Fictional Meal Ever?

From Rear Window to Ratatouille

Graham Roumieu

Anthony Bourdain, chef, author, and TV host

Trimalchio’s feast in The Satyricon is about as great as it gets. Wild, over the top, outrageous, and absurdly funny. Hard to beat for sheer excess.

Bee Wilson, author, Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat

For sheer voluptuous fantasy, I’d choose the lobster and french fries Grace Kelly orders in for James Stewart in Rear Window. Stewart grumpily implies that it’s too perfect, but from where I’m sitting, it looks just perfect enough.

Danny Meyer, CEO, Union Square Hospitality Group

It’s unclear to me whether George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London is a novel or nonfiction, but I’m taking the liberty of choosing the scene in which a character fantasizes about the dinner he’d have if he could afford it: oysters, borscht, crayfish, “a young chicken en casserole,” beef with stewed plums, potatoes, salad, suet pudding with Roquefort cheese, and “a litre of Burgundy and some old brandy.”

Linton Hopkins, chef and owner, Restaurant Eugene (Atlanta)

Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party captures both the languid and the sparkling moments of sharing a great meal.

Padma Lakshmi, host, Top Chef

The movie Ratatouille is one long, rolling meal. It introduces children to the joys and technical aspects of cooking without dumbing anything down. My daughter and I relish watching it together.

Christopher Kimball, founder, editor, and publisher, Cook’s Illustrated

Purely on the basis of conviviality, the annual Christmas Eve fete described in The Pickwick Papers would be the ultimate repast. The apples were “hissing and bubbling” and there was a “mighty bowl of wassail.” No overwrought 20-course tasting menu could possibly compete.

Adam Rapoport, editor in chief, Bon Appétit

I love the scene in Tampopo, the greatest food film ever made, where the hobo breaks into a kitchen in the middle of the night to whip up a crispy yet custardy fried-rice omelet for a little kid. Twenty years ago I saw this, and I’m still hungry.

Sarah Silverman, comedian, We Are Miracles (HBO, November 23)

In Albert Brooks’s Defending Your Life, one of my all-time favorite movies Brooks and Meryl Streep are dead and in this kind of limbo where you can eat anything you want and never gain a pound.

Corby Kummer, senior editor, The Atlantic

Harriet the Spy has an irrational love of tomato sandwiches. They were entirely too white-bread for the house I grew up in but I knew I wanted to love something as much as Harriet loved those sandwiches.

Ruth Reichl, food writer and editor

I’d choose William Carlos Williams’s poem “This Is Just to Say”: “I have eaten / the plums / that were in / the icebox / and which / you were probably / saving / for breakfast / Forgive me / they were delicious / so sweet / and so cold”

Todd English, chef and author

In the movie Vatel, a chef meticulously creates lavish, sumptuous banquets fit for a king—in this case, Louis XIV. In the 17th century, as today, we are often remembered for our last dish.

Marcus Samuelsson, chef and owner, Red Rooster (New York)

I love all the food scenes in Eat Drink Man Woman. The main character is a widower who cooks elaborate Sunday dinners as a way to get his three daughters home. The last dinner scene is a fantastic depiction of the power of food to change family dynamics.

Francis Ford Coppola, director and owner, Francis Ford Coppola Winery

The meal depicted in the film La Grande Bouffe is unmatched in its excessiveness. It was literally to die for.

Jeremiah Tower, chef and author, New American Classics

I read Swallows and Amazons while attending a postwar English boarding school (think that “Please, sir” moment in Oliver Twist). The scene of children feasting on cake, chocolate biscuits, strawberry ices, ginger nuts, and bath buns covered in icing made me faint with desire.

Eric Ripert, chef

The chef in the movie Babette’s Feast puts all her love, passion, and knowledge into creating an amazing dinner—but the guests don’t react, because they are Protestant and don’t want to show pleasure.

Mario Batali, chef, author, and TV host

Babette’s Feast is excess incarnate, with food that is otherworldly, transformative, and mysteriously poetic. The dish “quail in a sarcophagus” is evidence of a higher power.

Alain Ducasse, chef, Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester 

Babette’s Feast embodies a notion that is essential for a cuisinier: eating is all about love. To serve and share food reconciles human beings and constructs a community around happiness.

José Andrés, chef and president, ThinkFoodGroup

In the Japanese manga Oishinbo, Yamaoka searches for the ultimate meal. The series inspires me to always be searching, because if the menu’s already written, that would be boring.

Ashley Parrish, editor in chief, DailyCandy

The elaborate white-tie dinner party at Downton Abbey that becomes an indoor picnic when the stove breaks down. Ham, turkey, fruits, breads, and sweets are laid out along with champagne, wine, and cordials. Lady Cora’s mother ushers in the modernity of 1920 by instructing guests to “find whatever it is you want to eat and take it wherever you want to sit—anywhere all over the house.”

This is an expanded version of November 2013’s Big Question. Readers have been sharing their answers on Twitter—here are some of our favorites.

@summertomato: My dad read me Swiss Family Robinson as a kid and I still remember the roasted pig wrapped in Madagascar leaves. Yum.

@andyorin: Important question. The one in Spielberg's Hook.

@jdfeltman: Green eggs and ham!

@ardendier: I hear #Hogwarts feasts are pretty extravagant.

@luriethereal: The feasts in the Redwall series were always described so exquisitely.

@fashionherald: Any Hemingway meal that involved very cold white wine in Spain.

@ConorMWalsh: Cena Trimalchionis - followed by Babette's Feat

@AndrewDuncanLA: The Italian feast in Big Night!

@Pierzy: Bill Murray's feast during his "I'm a god" comment in 'Groundhog Day.' 
@abloom38: "Four Fried Chickens and a Coke"

@Alex_Nibley: Tom Jones: Albert Finney and Joyce Redman devouring of variety of dishes (and each other with their eyes)

@Greg_Greg_: The dwarf dinner at Bilbo's house in 'The Hobbit.’

@swarzlov: The Red Wedding Feast