The world of film has no shortage of brilliant cooking scenes. If you don’t believe us, just check out our list of the top ten greatest celebrations of food in cinema. From Pixar’s Ratatouille to Stanley Tucci’s mouth-watering Big Night, directors have depicted the ritual of cooking and eating together time and time again. This scene from the 1990 gangster film Goodfellas, in which mobster Henry Hill recalls how he and his gang made dinner in prison, is perhaps one of the most strangely heartwarming cooking scenes of all time.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, Goodfellas tells the story of a young man who has been born and raised in the mob. As he indulges in the pleasure, money, and luxury his lifestyle affords, he makes his way gradually through the ranks, unaware of the horror and bloodshed his occupation causes. Soon enough, however, Hill goes from big-time Mafia boss to middle-aged cocaine addict, forcing him to rethink his climb to the top of the food chain.
As well as offering an unflinching depiction of life at the heart of the mob, Goodfellas showcases the essential function of cooking and eating. This ritual act takes on great meaning throughout the film, serving to bind Henry and his companions – many of whom are displaced Italian migrants – to a shared culture.
This scene, in particular, also emphasises the way food can offer familiarity and comfort in the bleakest of situations. “In prison, dinner was always a big thing,” Hill begins. “We had a pasta course and then we had a meat or fish. Paulie did the prep work. He was doing a year for contempt, and he had this wonderful system for doing the garlic. He used a razor, and he used to slice it so thin that he used to liquefy in the pan with just a little oil. It was a very good system.”
Hill’s narration offers a surprisingly cosy portrait of prison life, one that was only available to those who knew how to bend the rules. At the same time, this simple scene also allows Scorsese to show the importance the mob places on camaraderie. Each character is given a simple job, which they perform with care and attention. The steaming dinner that awaits the group once their tasks are complete is the product of teamwork and communication, and thus becomes a symbol of fraternity.
Make sure you check out the iconic scene below.