I hadn’t heard much about the film Chef, and then suddenly two weeks ago I heard several friends mention it and how good it was. I knew vaguely who was in it, but once I read a little bit about the plot I was sold. Jon Favreau and a food truck? Done deal.
Jon Favreau writes, directs and stars in this film as Miami born chef Carl Casper. He works at a renowned LA restaurant under stick-in-the mud boss Riva, played by Dustin Hoffman, and is limited to serving what Riva wants – the same old unadventurous menu without any adjustments or improvements. When Casper is forced to serve influential food critic Ramsay Michel a menu without any panache, his food, and his appearance, gets a beating on the critic’s blog.
At the same time, Casper is spending weekends with his son, Percy, who introduces him to the world of Twitter. Casper’s inexperience with social media leads to an accidental flame war with Ramsay Michel and he invites Michel back to the restaurant to try the food again, this time promising a special menu designed just for him. Casper’s plans to wow Michel are foiled by his conservative boss Riva yet again, leading to a showdown in the kitchen and Casper quitting, but not before having a screaming fit in the restaurant, which is captured on film and goes viral online.
In an effort to escape the publicity, Casper agrees to go to Miami with ex-wife Inez (Sophia Vergara) to look after their son while she works. His cooking creative juices start flowing again once he begins to enjoy Miami’s Cuban food, and Inez finds a beat up truck for him to fix up and use as a food truck. His sous chef, Martin (John Leguizamo) shows up to help out, and with Percy’s help they get the food truck up and running, then embark on a trip across the USA back to LA, selling Cuban and New Orleans food, and building a following through Twitter.
This film is a wonderful return to Favreau’s Indie roots, and while it’s a bit of a sleeper hit, I think it’s going to gain a little momentum in the next few weeks. Favreau’s script is nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s well written and funny. Favreau, Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavle’s kitchen banter is quick and smart-arsed, just the way you would imagine a restaurant kitchen to be. Vergara as Casper’s ex-wife is unusually understated and thankfully not written as a South American caricature. Rather, she is supportive and caring towards Casper, even when he disappoints their son repeatedly by prioritising work over family.
The food truck serves as the setting for Casper and Percy’s relationship to start fresh. Instead of father and son, they are head chef and line chef, working together, and it’s not overly saccharine with touching father/son moments. The relationship is rebuilt and gains strength with every city they stop in, and it becomes clear to Casper that Percy’s skilled social media usage is what’s building the crowd of people lining up to eat the food he so lovingly prepares.
Which brings me to the next major draw-card of the film: the food. Favreau shadowed LA chef Roy Choi in his kitchens, went to culinary school, and then actually worked in the chef’s kitchens to learn the necessary prep and cooking skills so that he could do all the cooking in the film. And my God. It. Is. Incredible. If you are a foodie (and even if you’re not), you’ll love seeing the delicious food prepared and cooked, and the skill that goes into plating up a meal. Casper even makes a grilled cheese sandwich in the most fantastically gourmet way. There is food porn galore in this film and it really should be listed in the credits as one of the stars of the film. Without such intense focus on the food, I doubt this film would have as much impact. Food in universal, it brings people together and it satisfies the most basic human need. Everyone can relate to it – preparing it, eating it with friends and family, and taking pleasure in something well-cooked with a glass of perfectly matched wine, and Favreau has really worked hard to incorporate those things into the film by focusing so closely on food.
I really, really enjoyed this film. It’s not as comedic as I thought it would be and I wish it had a little bit more of Favreau, Leguizamo and Cannavle smart-talking together, but there are certainly enough funny moments in it to keep it interesting when the food doesn’t have centre stage.
A word of advice: do NOT see this film on an empty stomach. If you don’t come out of the cinema wanting to stuff your face with a gourmet sandwich, there’s something wrong with you.
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