Long Island’s Cinema Arts Centre Brings “Dinner and a Movie” Online During Shutdown

Image Courtesy Cinema Arts Centre

Dining on spaghetti and meatballs while watching Lady and the Tramp, Greek rice pudding while watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, or the title dish while watching Pixar’s Ratatouille: what could be more fitting?

With the classic first date or family outing of “dinner and a movie” an impossibility right now, independent Long Island exhibitor Cinema Arts Centre has partnered with a local restaurateur to produce a weekly video series teaching viewers how to cook foods featured in prominent films.

In each video, chef and restaurant owner Martin Butera appears from his home kitchen, instructing viewers how to prepare a dish from a famous movie. Then Jacqueline Strayer, an adjunct professor of communications and public relations at Columbia and NYU, gives some fun facts about the film itself.

The cinema posts ingredients at least a week in advance through social media, to ensure viewers will be able to prepare. They also list the streaming services where you can rent or watch each film.

Their first video premiered April 9, teaching a spaghetti and meatballs recipe to accompany the famous restaurant scene from Lady and the Tramp. It accumulated about 2,000 views when combining YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.

The cinema also encourages viewers to post photos of their finished products alongside the hashtag #ForksNFilms, with the best entries receiving prizes. Long Island audiologist Elaine Vetrano was awarded a family pack of four tickets, four beverages, and a large popcorn whenever the cinema reopens, based on her photo: 

Image Courtesy Cinema Arts Centre

New York City resident Mei Zhu was deprived of certain ingredients, so she came up with several clever substitutions instead: oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs, sopa instead of pasta, and veggie patties instead of chopped meat. For her ingenuity, she was awarded a gift certificate to a Martin Butera restaurant, based on her photo:

Image Courtesy Cinema Arts Centre

The second episode premiered April 16, featuring the title food from Ratatouille, a French dish featuring eggplant, squash, zucchini, and peppers. “I actually hadn’t made the French version before,” Butera reveals. “I’d only made a simpler Italian version called caponata.”

The third episode, scheduled for April 23, will spotlight the classic 1980s movie Big. “Tom Hanks has been a symbol of survival in this pandemic,” Strayer explains, after the actor became one of the most famous people diagnosed with COVID-19.

Originally, they wanted to reference a scene where Hanks’ character chokes on beluga caviar at a company party. Recognizing that most people wouldn’t be able to access or afford such an expensive item, they settled on nachos instead.

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We hope you enjoyed #forksnfilms Ep 2, “Anyone can cook”! For Ep 3, we’ll be making two versions of nachos together – Butera Baked Nachos and Butera Baked “Pizza Nachos”, inspired by the company party scene from Big. Here are the ingredients you need! – – Butera Baked Nachos – 1 tablespoon olive oil – 1-pound ground beef – 1 clove minced garlic – 1.5 oz. of taco season spice* (if you want to make your own) or pre-packaged taco seasoning – 1 tablespoon chili powder – ¼ tsp garlic powder – ¼ tsp onion powder – ¼ tsp dried oregano – ½ tsp paprika – 1 ½ tsp ground cumin – 1 tsp sea salt – 1 tsp black pepper – 12 oz. tortilla chips – 1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed – 1 cup of corn kernels – frozen, canned, fresh roasted – 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese – 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese – 2 Roma tomatoes, diced – ¼ cup red onion, diced – 1 jalapeno, thinly sliced – 2 tablespoons sour cream – 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro Butera Baked “Pizza Nachos” – 3 tablespoons olive oil – 2 cups marinara sauce – 12 oz. tortilla chips – 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese – 2 Roma tomato, diced – ¼ cup grated Romano cheese – 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil – ¼ tsp dried oregano

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The fourth episodem scheduled for April 30, is centered around romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “In the film, they show a guy bringing a dead lamb in the back of a kitchen!” Butera laughs. Wisely opting for a different dish (and cooking method) instead, Butera settled on two: Greek roasted potato and rice pudding.

The idea harked back to a 2013 event. “We screened Big Night, about two brothers who open a restaurant in the ’50s on the Jersey Shore. So my wife and I prepared dishes from the film,” says Butera, who serves on the cinema’s Board of Directors. “After it was over, we went to the [cinema’s] Sky Room Café and served those foods. 250 people came.”

When the COVID-19 crisis shut down theaters nationwide, fellow Board member Strayer had the idea to resurrect the event digitally, with an added do-it-yourself instructional element. “I’m sitting in my living room, sitting on my couch, thinking how could we engage our community,” Strayer says. “So I sent Martin a text: how about an idea for ‘dinner and a movie’? It morphed into this concept.”

“We opened in Huntington in 1973, with a space in a friend of the cinema’s dance studio, showing films on a sheet we put up on the wall,” says director of marketing and communications Nate Close. “Now, we attract hundreds of thousands of people a year.”

“We’ve obviously had to switch to a digital-focused programming schedule,” Close adds, “but it’s important for us to stay connected to the audience we’ve built up over decades.” 

Image Courtesy Cinema Arts Centre