Cooking with genius

Pub date October 17, 2006
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

Kenny Shopsin is a philosopher-cook who shrinks his kitchen to the size of the world and enlarges the world to the size of his kitchen, likening his old stove to ”a whore’s ass” and pasting terrorists onto the wings of flies. Here are the rules at his General Store in Greenwich Village, New York City: no parties of five or larger, and everyone has to eat. Don’t insult the cook by ordering just coffee unless you want to eat it. Also, most legendarily, if you’re not a regular, you can go fuck yourself.
Why all the candy on the shelves?
“People like to take candy,” Shopsin tells Matt Mahurin in I Like Killing Flies. And as for whomever is waiting to kill themselves to blow up America, “I wish them luck.”
Mahurin, a committed regular at the General Store, is always in the right place with his camera. We hear from kindred spirits, meet the Shopsin family, and watch Kenny, an alchemist, turn soup into soup the way Harry Smith turned milk into milk. This is the cook as a cook in a kitchen where total collapse is fended off by duct tape, cups on string, a busted red flyswatter, and the metaphysics of telling fuckers off. A tin of shredded coconut, apparently invented to keep the dish rack from collapsing, is also and finally a tin of shredded coconut — useful for dusting a stack of pancakes speed-glazed with a flaming-hot spatula.
Mahurin’s film makes this clear: genius has something to do with food if the cook is a genius and everything to do with doing what you must do.
The Shopsins were squeezed out of their old shop of 32 years in 2002. I Like Killing Flies documents their lucky move down the street. Unscrewing the front door from the jambs, Shopsin cracks that he might use it as a cheap headstone. Compared to the original spot, the new Shopsin’s General Store is a sprawling, airy tree house but still quite funky. The West Village is getting way too slick and specialized, and everything about Shopsin’s funkifies through overdiversity — too much creativity. I counted 138 different soups on the menu, including pistachio red chicken curry and Peruvian shrimp avocado, as well as dozens of “Breakfast Name Plates,” including the Twain (“huckleberry Finnish crepes”) — yet all Shopsin cares to eat, he tells Mahurin, is his own chili stewed with a splash of coffee. He compares such counterintuitive fusions to sodomy. Mara and Zach Shopsin took orders from me and my girlfriend, and the cook himself, in his Shopsin’s T-shirt (he doesn’t remove it for the whole movie) made sure that we walked out with free candy.
Mahurin’s documentary is one you can live in. Your head fits right into this furnished hollow tree. The film mentions but does not explore the death of Eve Shopsin, Kenny’s wife, in 2003, but we get to enjoy her presence for the whole first hour or more, which is a blessing in itself. (Julien Poirier)
Opens Fri/20
Roxie Film Center
3117 16th St., SF
(415) 863-1087