Roman Coppola And W Hotels Release Four Travel-Inspired Films

With the help of filmmaker Roman Coppola, son of director Francis Ford Coppola, W Hotels and Intel recently held a travel-inspired screenplay competition. Out of more than 1,000 online entries, four scripts were chosen by Coppola, who then used his production company, The Directors Bureau, to match the winning scripts with emerging directors and actors.

The result are the short films below, each of which takes place at a W Hotel around the world: in Doha, Qatar; Mexico City, Mexico; Washington, DC; and the Maldives. The only other stipulation for screenwriters was that the films had to feature an Intel Ultrabook – kind of like the secret ingredient in an Iron Chef competition. The results are quirky, touching, and sometimes eerie, but most of all great ways to inspire travel and help emerging talent get their feet off the ground.

Modern/Love: Two 20-somethings take the next step in their long-distance cyber romance, meeting in person for the first time during an exotic vacation in Doha, Qatar. Will their tech-enabled feelings hold true in real life?
Screenplay by Amy Jacobowitz
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Featuring Robert Schwartzman and Naomi Scott

¡El Tonto!: A socially challenged vacationer in Mexico City, Mexico, strikes up an unlikely friendship with one of the country’s best-known luchadores.
Screenplay by Ben Sayeg
Directed by Lake Bell
Featuring Kyle Mooney and Kyle Mooney

Eugene: A traveler in Washington, DC, gets a mysterious gift: an Ultrabook that grants all his wishes. How will he wield his unexpected powers?
Screenplay by Adam Blampied
Directed by Spencer Susser
Featuring Michael Govier and Karolina Wydra

The Mirror Between Us: Two young women embark on a dream-like adventure through the islands of the Maldives after an event turned both their worlds upside down.
Screenplay by Nicole Beharie
Directed by Kahlil Joseph
Featuring Dan’ee Doty

The Southern Road: Visiting The Luxury South

Chris Hastings has beaten Bobby Flay on Iron Chef. This year, he won a James Beard Award. On any weeknight, his restaurant is packed with diners who look over the shoulders of his kitchen crew as they cook right in front of their eyes. But Hastings isn’t cooking in Manhattan or Chicago or San Francisco.

He owns Hot and Hot Fish Club, in Birmingham, Alabama, and he’s in the forefront of a legion of chefs across the Deep South who are turning out some of the finest food in the United States. In turn, these top chefs and their restaurant owners are directly linked to the wealth that is resulting from the auto plants in their midst.

The Luxury South existed in pockets before the auto industry arrived. There have always been elite schools, like Old Miss, Vanderbilt and Tulane, and sprawling homes and plantations everywhere from Savannah to Mobile. But the critical mass of car plants has provided new opportunities for the South to attain its own luxury status.

The evidence is most visible in two places – Greenville, S.C., near BMW’s only American plant, and in the Birmingham area, where Mercedes-Benz built its sprawling factory in Vance, AL.

Turn down Main Street in Greenville, and you’ll find an array of bars, restaurants and hotels that would seem right at home in any upscale American city. They sit just a short walk from Fluor Field, where the minor league Greenville Drive play in a stadium modeled after Fenway Park.

Among the team’s long list of corporate sponsors is the BMW Performance Driving School, which is just across the road from the gleaming white factory that BMW opened here in 1994.BMW owners from across the country can take delivery of their vehicles in Greenville, and get lessons in how to drive them. They can dine in BMW’s cafe, buy souvenir shot glasses and water bottles in the BMW gift shop, and take a tour of the factory, which has become famous from BMW’s ads.

A number of those BMW customers have found their way to the collection of restaurants owned by Carl Sobocinski, the unquestioned king of the local food scene, who is a chief beneficiary of the Luxury South.

His stable ranges from his white table cloth restaurant, Devereaux’s, to Soby’s, a bustling bar and grill, to The Lazy Goat, his attempt at a Mediterranean restaurant.

Sobocinski, who opened his first restaurant at age 25 in 1992, is one of those restaurant owners who his patrons greet by name and in many cases thank for investing in their town. “It was dead down here,” John Bauka, a Soby’s patron declared, unasked, when he came up to shake Sobocinski’s hand after a meal. In those days, only two blocks near the city’s Hyatt Hotel were at all lively.

“Everything down here was kind of boarded up,” Sobocinski said. “It was huge, in how fast it went” after BMW arrived. “We had Michelin, we had General Electric, we had Fluor, but they didn’t bring the suppliers that we have here now.”

More than 100 other companies have opened up since BMW arrived, bringing a flood of newcomers to the area. “They were bringing people in, I’d meet them, and all of a sudden they’re calling and saying, we’re bringing in some important people, we need a quiet place,’ he said. “I was in the right place at the right time. I always say, I’d rather be lucky than good.”

The growth has bothered some locals: “You’ll have people say, why are we giving away the farm? And others who say this is the way to go,” Sobocinski says.

In Birmingham, it would be difficult to find anyone who thinks Mercedes-Benz has been anything but a plus to the community, although the investment didn’t come without risks. In 1993, the state put together a then-staggering $253 million incentive package to land the plant, but then was in danger of not being able to come up with the money. Help arrived from the state’s pension fund, and the Mercedes project was able to go forward.

Now, Mercedes is the centerpiece of aggressive growth for Birmingham and a further enhancement for Tuscaloosa, which already boasts the University of Alabama’s lavish campus. In the years since Mercedes arrived, Birmingham has become a smaller version of Atlanta, minus the crippling traffic. It was already the financial capital of Montgomery, but now it has become a bustling, medium sized city that is the center of the southern auto industry.

In another era, it might seem ludicrous that a chef like Hastings would beat out four competitors from New Orleans to win the Beard Award as the best chef in the South. Not any more.

It only takes a few minutes in his restaurant to understand why. Hot and Hot opens at 5:30 p.m., and on many nights, it is packed by 6 p.m. Hastings is often at the door, in his chef’s coat, to say hello to guests, sign his cookbook, and deal with special requests. There’s no camouflaging what’s happening in the kitchen, because the restaurant is essentially built around an open kitchen.

Dinners who sit at the chef’s counter have an up close view of their meals being prepared, as well as all the other steps that go into each dish. They can watch cooks using blow torches and painstakingly sautéing peaches. None of this is frenetic: in fact, there is a sense of politeness, camaraderie and calm to the proceedings that put lie to the tension of “Kitchen Nightmares.”

After directing a nine-course, small bites dinner for me that included three desserts, home made rye bread and biscuits, an amazing gazpacho and the best soft-shelled crab I’d ever eaten, Hastings took me on a tour.

It didn’t take long, because the restaurant has just one tiny area where the locally grown fruits and vegetables are prepared, as well as the walk-in refrigerators where meat and fish are stored. The quality is outstanding from the minute produce arrives, as I discovered when I ate one of the heirloom tomatoes he gave me to take home.

Although he has just this one restaurant, Hastings’ influence spreads out in the food world well beyond Birmingham. And, he’s not the only chef in town who’s transcended the local scene. One of the city’s other standout chefs, Frank Stitt, has won similar praise for his Highlands Bar and Grill. Like Sobocinski in Greenville, Stitt has his own collection, ranging from French bistro to Italian cafe.

The flourishing Birmingham restaurant scene right in sync with the atmosphere at the Mercedes plant, with its vast, sparkling clean aisles.

As in Greenville, Mercedes has gone all out to court its customers, who can visit a museum, take a tour, and shop for souvenirs, from picnic baskets to golf shirts and tennis balls with the Mercedes logo. It’s truly a luxury experience, unlike anything imaginable before the auto industry got here. And the impact is being shared throughout the community, as well.

Micheline Maynard is a writer and author based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She previously ran the public media project Changing Gears, and was Detroit bureau chief for the New York Times.

Hot and Hot Fish Club, 2180 11th Court South, Birmingham, AL 205-933-5474 for reservations (it does not accept them online)

Soby’s, 207 S. Main Street, Greenville, S.C., 864-232-7007 (the restaurant accepts reservations online)

Dining with Iron Chef Michael Symon at Lolita in Cleveland

Until last Sunday, I wasn’t sure who Iron Chef Michael Symon is. Now, I do. My first introduction came with tickets to the Fabulous Food Show in Cleveland–my friend’s pick.

Symon, who is from Cleveland, was one of the featured chefs who put on a show to an audience filled with foodies. While we stood in line like some sort of sheep waiting to claim our reserved seats, I still wasn’t clear about why I should care about him.

That’s changed. Symon is a Clevelander through and through. Celebrity chef or not, he knows how to talk to his people. Plus, the guy can cook, talk at the same time, and give tips about how to crush garlic and which part should be taken out to keep from being bitter. (You take out the green sliver in each clove. He called it the germ.)

Although we didn’t get one of those scrumptious looking date appetizers at the show, afterward we ate at Lolita, one of Symon’s restaurants. The dates were on the menu.

Lordy! Manna from heaven, pure and simple. Lolita is the companion restaurant to Lola–the high end eatery that Anthony Bourdain visited in the Cleveland episode of ” No Reservations.

Lolita, in the Tremont district of Cleveland–a historic, once gritty neighborhood that is on the rise–is a bistro type place that may have been a neighborhood bar years and years ago.

The exterior reflects its time period, but the inside has been transformed into an upscale edgy, artsy environment. The lighting is intimate and low, and the tables are far enough apart to add to the ambiance. Both my friend and I loved the decor, although I could barely read the menu since I was the one tucked next to the wall. The candle helped.

We had already ordered three appetizers and an entree to share, plus a glass of wine each, when Michael Symon appeared to eat dinner with his wife and friends. Like any good restaurateur, he stopped to chat with customers and laughed heartily at their conversations.

He didn’t notice me tucked in the dimly lit corner, however–or my friend who was about an inch from him when he visited with the folks at the table closest to us. She’s one of his ardent fans.

Being that he was in the middle of hobnobbing in between ordering and eating, we didn’t interrupt him–not even when we left after splitting our bill–about $26 or so a piece. I would have told him how much I loved those dates.

From what I remember from his show, they were baked for 10 or 15 minutes and covered with almonds that had been sauted along with chopped up panchetta. He promised to put the recipe on his blog, but it’s not there yet.

The dates weren’t the most creative item we ordered. That distinction goes to the Crispy Chicken Livers with “soft polenta, wild mushrooms and panchetta.” My friend wasn’t too fond of them. She’s not a liver gal after all, but I thought they were brilliant and felt sort of Andrew Zimmern-like eating them.

We also had the Fried Brussel Sprouts. They were chopped and fried up with anchovies, capers, walnuts and chilies. Quite wonderful. My friend adores brussel sprouts. Generally, I’ll eat them, but they’re not my fave. Symon’s version were a different story. Yum!

For an entree, I was saved from the pizza with pork belly by the waiter who said that he liked another sausage version of the pizza choices better. My friend, who was angling for the pork belly since she said everyone is cooking up dishes with pork belly these days, settled for the waiter’s recommendation.

My response to eating pork belly is this. “If everyone is jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you?”

By the way, we had two slices of pizza each and took the rest away with us. The starters were filling enough, and I made my $6.50 glass of wine last the whole meal. An interesting touch to the wine service was that the waiter poured each serving from small cruet like pitchers into our glasses at the table. My friend had white and I had red. Mine was the cheapest and was quite good. Cheapest or not, it felt classy.

[The food photos by edseloh are from Flickr under Michael Symon. The food is not exactly what we ordered but has a certain similarity. There are other gorgeous shots that will make you hungry.]