‘Pressure Cooker’ is an inspirational story of hard work

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, July 9, 2009 9:59pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The way reality shows about top chefs (and wannabe top chefs) have become entertainment, the path has been cleared for “Pressure Cooker,” a documentary on the subject of food preparation.

But the specifics of “Pressure Cooker” are considerably different from the trumped-up drama of reality television. Welcome to the Culinary Arts program at Philadelphia’s Frankford High School, where the majority of students are black and the teacher is a legend.

She is Wilma Stephenson, the kind of drill sergeant (complete with heart of gold) you wish every teenager would be lucky enough to be around. As sensitive to a slammed door or rumpled shirt as she is to bad food preparation, Stephenson pushes her students to achieve.

There’s a specific goal: year-end scholarships from a nonprofit organization, sometimes for full tuition at culinary schools.

That gives the movie a structure, and of course a “Spellbound”-style suspense at the end. (“Spellbound” as in the crossword puzzle documentary, not the Hitchcock picture.) By focusing on three students, filmmakers Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker provide a very human focus for the competition.

Tyree Dudley is an all-state football player who fits the classic “gentle giant” stereotype and is amazingly free of attitude.

It’s hard to pick which of the two girls profiled has the more heartbreaking story. Erica Gaither’s disrupted home life means that she provides the primary care for her younger sister, who is almost completely blind.

Fatoumata Dembele is an immigrant from Mali, who cooks African meals every day and whose father disapproves of her being too independent.

Frankford High is neither a tough inner-city free-for-all nor a place of privilege, just somewhere in between. Stephenson’s cooking class must have its washouts and trouble cases, but we don’t see much of that here, as the film focuses on the more inspirational aspects of her program.

No doubt about it: “Pressure Cooker” is inspirational. Not because at the end it depicts something magical, but because it acknowledges that hard work and discipline can have their rewards. A nice break from the usual multiplex fare.

Talk to us

More in Life

The 2023 Infiniti QX80 has standard rear-wheel drive and optional four-wheel drive available on all models. (Infiniti)
2023 Infiniti QX80 is powerful and posh

A mighty V8 engine does the work while a luxurious interior provides the pleasure.

Artist Michelle Downes prepares to work on a few canvases in her garage workspace on Thursday, July 6, 2023, at her family’s home in Stanwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Stanwood artist Michelle Downes creates layered dreamscapes in resin

Resin is one part chemistry and one part artistry. Downes combines the two to make art that captures the imagination.

Kotor's zigzagging town wall rewards climbers with a spectacular view. (Cameron Hewitt / Rick Steves' Europe)
Rick Steves: Just south of Dubrovnik lies unpolished Montenegro

One of Europe’s youngest nations offers dramatic scenery, locals eager to show off their unique land, and a refreshing rough-around-the-edges appeal.

Dark gray wheels and black exterior accents provide extra visual appeal for the 2024 Subaru Impreza’s RS trim. (Subaru)
2024 Subaru Impreza loses a little, gains a lot

The brand’s compact car is fully redesigned. A couple of things are gone, but many more have arrived.

TSR image for calendar
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

This weekend in Snohomish: The Snohomish Blues Invasion and the Snohomish Studio Tour 2023.

Made by Bruce Hutchison, the poster for “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is an homage to 1985 classic “The Goonies.” (Photo provided)
Indie film premiering on Whidbey Island

Filmed almost entirely on Whidbey Island, “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is set to premiere in Langley.

TSR image only
Does your elementary school child have ADHD?

It’s important to identify children with this condition so we can help them succeed in school.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

A clump of flowering ornamental grass or pennisetum alopecuroides in an autumn garden.
My garden runneth over with fountain grasses, and for good reason

These late-blooming perennials come in many varieties. They work well as accents, groundcovers, edgings or in containers.

Most Read