Yes, this whole sequence was fantastic from beginning to end. In general I loved the way Anno manipulated common anime tropes and cliches in Evangelion 2.0 with same brilliance as in original (albeit nothing will beat the genius that was Tokyo-3 morning montage with music from the 70s nigh-classic scifi film man who stole the sun playing in the background. Incredible, multilayered sequence in so many ways).
The whole deal with the usage of food (in particular: bentos) as a motif was great and this is just another link in the chain. That Rei truly starts opening up to Shinji here – as well as truly establishing the food motif for the pseudo-triangle drama – during the cooking scene is also very important event that happened here which I think is worth mentioning among the ones you listed.
This is not the first time Anno has used food as motif in NGE, mind you. In episode 17 food/eating played big role in scene changes and as a setup for scenes (more numerous to count) as well as setting up false expectations of happy anime narrative with the whole deal with Hikari cooking for Touji. In ep 18 the brutality of harsh reality destroyed the blooming romance: mercilessly illustrated by the post-Bardiel scene of Hikari cooking and wondering if Touji eats/will like what he cooked tomorrow, oblivious to tragedy that had just happened. For such a minor scene it has haunted me to unusual degree.
What Anno does with food motif in Rebuild is quite similar but far larger in scale and complexity. In very similar way to ep 26′s “alternative universe” material we see Rei and Asuka “competing” over Shinji via cooking, following closely the laws of romance anime cliches. The rich meal enjoyed by Kaji et al during the picnic is contrasted with rations eaten by Gendo & Fuyutsuki during their trip to moon etc. Shinji also shows her caring and love for others mainly through cooking and as such apron-Shinji fussing around in kitchen is one of the key images that represented the “family” Shinji, Misato and Asuka build during the point it seemed Shinji Could Advance. It’s not by coincidence Anno included shot of abandonded kitchen in the scene Shinji abandons Misato, the apartment and Tokyo-3. I think there even was the very same tablet in the shot Shinji used in Asuka’s “toothpick” scene.
The food motif – as goofy and clichedly animesque motif as Anno needed – also came ot represent opening up of Rei and the way to hope and fixing relationship between Shinji and his dad via Ayanami’s “party”.
And it all is – just like in original eps 17-18 – big buildup towards happy anime narrative that Bardiel incident destroys. The shot of Rei’s cooking boiling over as NERV agents come to her is the final shot and culmination of the whole food motif in the film. It says everything.
The “picnic” more than any other scene setup this “false narrative” and as such is one of the most important scenes in the film’s first half.[…]