Behind the Screens: Nitehawk Cinema Debut ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ Film Feast

bigtrouble poster Behind the Screens: Nitehawk Cinema Debut Big Trouble in Little China Film Feast

Big Trouble in Little China. Nitehawk Cinema

Nitehawk Cinema is an impeccably programmed cinephile’s paradise. It’s also a top-notch restaurant. When it puts together one of its Film Feasts, however, it transcends both of those labels to provide a one-of-a-kind cinematic gourmet experience. For each Feast, Nitehawk’s staff mixes a kickass movie, a guest chef, and a beverage partner to create a food and drink menu paired to specific moments in the film. Past Feasts have included flicks as disparate as Goodfellas, Major League, and Coming to America. The Film Feast on April 18th will feature the John Carpenter classic Big Trouble in Little China, a menu concocted by Chef Calvin Eng of Nom Wah Nolita, and a beer selection from Lagunitas Brewing Company. In the spirit of DVD special features, we interviewed Chef Eng, Sean Hall from Lagunitas, and Nitehawk staff to provide an ersatz commentary on Nitehawk Cinema’s Big Trouble in Little China Film Feast.

What made you decide to choose this specific movie and team up with these specific partners?

Matt Walker, Nitehawk Beverage Director: In the case of Big Trouble in Little China, we’d been talking to Nom Wah for a while and looking for a way to work with them. This was before we’d ever selected a movie. We always sit down at Nitehawk and brainstorm ideas, movies, partners we’d like to work with in the future, and Big Trouble in Little China was just a favorite of ours for a very long time. In one of those meetings, it just kind of clicked and we thought, “We have to do this with Nom Wah.” It’s so perfect for them. And Lagunitas Brewery, we’ve worked with multiple times on Film Feasts. They’re a fantastic partner for us.

Sean Hall, Lagunitas Market Sales Manager: We’re fortunate enough that Lagunitas Brewery has really goofy names, so I try to pair the scene with whatever beer we have out.  Not just with this movie, but with every Film Feast we’ve done, we’ve had some really cool beer tie-ins. It’s easy for me because I just sit there watching a movie, drinking a beer, and saying, “Alright, that works!” [laughs]

So it’s not so much about pairing the beer with the food as it is about independently pairing the drinks with the moment. 

Matt Walker: We try to do both, actually. We’ll often be working on multiple levels on these. In the case of the brewery, we’ll always be tasting the beer, making sure it fits the course and then also finding a thematic match.

Sean Hall: Like trying to get two birds stoned at once. [laughter]

How do you factor in things like how much time people need to eat each dish or how much digestion time is necessary between courses? 

Kurt Applegate, Nitehawk Executive Chef: We usually shoot for 20-25 minutes, just because in the time it takes us to plate 60 dishes and get it out, then we’re pretty much moving on to the next course. When we’re passing around our notes from the movie, we come up with so many inspirations. We have so many choose to from that we have to really whittle away the key points we can choose based on that 20-minute separation between courses. It usually ends up being around 5 courses.

Matt Walker: Something our customers don’t necessarily realize is that when we are compiling our notes and working towards a finished menu, we come up with as many as twenty potential courses.

You guys haven’t really worried about the content of the movie being at odds with the food consumption, considering you’ve had Film Feasts for Silence of the Lambs, American Psycho, Friday the 13th…Was that a decision early on to say, “Well, if people think their stomachs can handle it…?”

John Woods, Nitehawk Director of Programming and Acquisitions: There was some discussion about it in the beginning [laughs], but nobody thought it was going to be a problem, and it hasn’t been.

Matt Walker: We find that the overall vibe is much more important. We try to stay away from depressing movies that don’t lend themselves as well to the enjoyment of eating.

So, no Seventh Seal Film Feasts on the horizon, then.

Matt Walker: No. [laughs] But we’re lucky enough to be working in an open-minded market in North Brooklyn, and if you create something interesting enough and, in this case, delicious enough, your audience finds you.

FIRST COURSE

Chinatown Dumplings – steamed chicken and shrimp siu mai | soy vinegar dipping sauce

chinatown dumplings Behind the Screens: Nitehawk Cinema Debut Big Trouble in Little China Film Feast

Chinatown Dumplings. Alexandra Siladi/ Nitehawk Cinema

Calvin Eng, Nom Wah Nolita Chef: This course gets served during one of the beginning scenes, when we see steamer baskets and live chickens in cages. I felt like just because we’re Nom Wah, we should do a steamed dumpling to start it off. Something small, something light that leads into other things.

Small Beginnings – Lagunitas IPA

Matt Walker: “Small Beginnings” is a reference is to the very first scene in the movie. You have the character, Egg Shen, talking about how everything happens because of small beginnings.

Sean Hall: By today’s standards, this a very drinkable IPA. 6.2 percent. It’s our flagship, so we always like to showcase it. It’s just really easy drinking. Great way to get settled into the flick.

SECOND COURSE

Pork Chop Lost In An Alley—Fried Pork Chop Sandwich—Taiwanese-style fried pork chop | pickled daikon | sweetened kewpie mayo | potato roll

pork chop lost in an alley Behind the Screens: Nitehawk Cinema Debut Big Trouble in Little China Film Feast

Pork Chop Lost in an Alley. Alexandra Siladi/Nitehawk Cinema

Calvin Eng: This course gets served when Kurt Russell’s driving the pork chop express truck. That scene kind of lasts for a while, so I thought we would start easing onto some of the heavier things here. The fried pork chop is a little sweet. It’s got some five spice, and the kewpie mayo is something traditionally made with fried shrimp, but it works great with the pork.

Henry Swanson’s My Name, And Excitement’s My Game—Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale

Sean Hall: That’s the scene where Kurt Russell goes undercover as a kind of geeky-looking dude, and we brewed a beer called “Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale” in 2006. We call it that because in 2005, the local authorities thought there were employees selling weed out of the brewery. We were throwing parties every Thursday at 4:20, which is a time that is very near and dear to us, and we would sell $2 beers and hire a band and people would just bring whatever, smoke whatever. So, they hired two undercover people to go into the brewery to get anyone to sell them weed. They grew their beards out. They had Birkenstocks. We got to know them over the course of two months because they were there all the time. Luckily, no one offered to sell to them, but a lot of people gave it to them and were like, “Oh, you don’t have to pay us. It’s Northern California. We’re happy to help you out.”

St. Patty’s Day in 2005 happened to be on a Thursday, so we had our big 4:20 party and they brought in eight undercover cops and were like, “We have to get them on something” because their guys had been getting drunk on taxpayer dollars all this time. They couldn’t come back empty-handed. So they got us on “disorderly house” and “moral turpitude.” We had to look up “moral turpitude,” which means you’re devoid of social norms, which might be true, and “disorderly house” is this weird old Prohibition law where they basically busted us for smoking weed on the premises. They tried to shut us down for a year, which is a death sentence for any business, but for a brewery, in particular. We got it down to 20 days of our choosing, so we put in a new bottling line and it ended up kind of working in the end. So we brewed an especially strong, especially bitter ale in remembrance of that day.

And a funny sidenote: Our owner, Tony, was talking to the guy who spearheaded the investigation and was like, “Is your Mom proud? What did you want to be when you grew up? You wanted to be busting up parties in a small business that helps the community?” And the guy said, “Actually, Tony, I wanted to be an astronaut.” So, on the label, if you read, it says, “we brew this especially bitter ale in dedication to all the world’s would-be astronauts.” Obviously, we had to use that beer for this scene.

THIRD COURSE

Lo Mein of Upside Down Sinner—Fiery Dank Shank Lo Mein—soy braised beef shank | chinese broccoli | pickled kohlrabi | fried shallots | scallion and cilantro

lo mein of upside down sinner Behind the Screens: Nitehawk Cinema Debut Big Trouble in Little China Film Feast

Lo Mein of Upside Down Sinner. Alexandra Siladi/Nitehawk Cinema

Calvin Eng: This isn’t really tied to a specific scene, but since there’s a character named Lo Pan, I said, “Screw it, let’s do Lo Mein.” We braise the beef shank for six hours, take the braising liquid and reduce it into a sauce with a syrupy consistency. We add other things to it, and then we toss chili oil and kind of do a stir fry with the noodles. So that and the Pork Chop are the two heavy guys on the menu.

Matt Walker:  The “Upside Down Sinners” part refers to an infamous torture room in Lo Pan”s compound.

Elevator Hot Box—Lagunitas Waldo Triple IPA

Sean Hall: We used to release this beer every 4/20, but we expanded it this year to the entire month of April. It’s called “Waldo’s Special Ale,” and we’ve been brewing it since 2011. The Waldos are the guys who coined the term “420,” back in 1971 in Marin County in the Bay Area. One guy’s brother was going to the Coast Guard, so he gave his little brother a treasure map and said, “This is where I’m growing my weed. Try to find it.” So, after school, they would smoke weed at 4:20 and try to find the secret garden. They never found it, but they started using the term “420” around their teachers and principals, like, “Hey man, we going to 420 later?” And now, it’s all over the world, and they still live in Northern Cali, so we bring them in, and we brewed a beer with those guys and said, “What hops look and smell like the weed you were smoking back in the day?” And it’s a big triple IPA. This year, it’s going to be 11.9%. Loads of hops. Sneakily easy drinking for that strong of a beer, but when we saw the smoke billowing out of the elevator in that one scene, I almost wanted to stop the movie and say, “I got this one!”

FOURTH COURSE

Huge Buzz veggie broth with coconut ginger froth; vegan based broth | coconut ginger froth | scallion and cilantro

huge buzz Behind the Screens: Nitehawk Cinema Debut Big Trouble in Little China Film Feast

Huge buzz. Alexandra Siladi/Nitehawk Cinema

Calvin Eng: This is something we have on the menu, as well. This is for the scene where Kurt Russell’s drinking the medicine, so we thought this could be like our version of that medicine. Also, a lot of times in Chinese banquets, you end with the soup, so it matches with that, as well.

Time for a Little Medicine—Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Wheat Ale

Sean Hall: If you look at the label, it’s got a little girl. We call her Millie. I wanted to include that because a big theme in the movie is “girl with green eyes.” It also takes you down from the Waldo. It’s our #2-selling beer. It’s a pale wheat ale, but it’s classified as an IPA. We use 50% wheat malt, which kind of rounds out the hops. It’s a beautiful beer and the one I probably drink the most as an employee year-round. Every employee gets a case a week, and that’s the one I usually bring home and grease my pizza guy and my tattoo guy with. People tell me all the time, “I don’t like IPAs, but I love Sumpin’ Sumpin’.” And I’m like, “Well, it is an IPA, but that’s cool.”

FIFTH COURSE

Green Eyes—Matcha Lotus Sesame Balls—fried matcha sesame balls | sweetened lotus paste filling

green eyes Behind the Screens: Nitehawk Cinema Debut Big Trouble in Little China Film Feast

Green Eyes. Alexandra Siladi/Nitehawk Cinema

Calvin Eng: This is something we usually serve at the Tea Parlor on a plate of three or four, but we’re doing two here, along with some matcha powder, to represent the green eyes.

Things Go Sour For Lo Pan—Lagunitas Aunt Sally Sour Ale 

Sean Hall: The “Aunt Sally” name comes from everyone having that crazy Aunt Sally. It’s sort of like a stepping-stone sour beer because sour beers aren’t for everybody. If you’ve never had one and you have like a really intense one, you’ll be like, “What is wrong with this?” So we take some lactobacillus, which acts like yeast, yet produces a sour taste, but then we hop the hell out of it to make for a really easy drinking, little sweet, little sour beer, which we thought would be great for the end.

Sean Hall: The “Aunt Sally” name comes from everyone having that crazy Aunt Sally. It’s sort of like a stepping-stone sour beer because sour beers aren’t for everybody. If you’ve never had one and you have like a really intense one, you’ll be like, “What is wrong with this?” So we take some lactobacillus, which acts like yeast, yet produces a sour taste, but then we hop the hell out of it to make for a really easy drinking, little sweet, little sour beer, which we thought would be great for the end.