Chef lumps together 3 of my favourite things: food, cinema and the enthralling vibrations of Latin percussion. There’s an on-going quip in the church of Wittertainment concerning the fact that Jaws and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are not really about sharks and spies respectively and the same, you could say applies here. The more significant bits of Chef for the most part are not really about the aesthetics of cuisine but a connection can be drawn to director Jon Favreau’s career as an acclaimed indie director with artistic control before being recruited to the big leagues with Iron Man and then hitting a low with Cowboys and Aliens. It could also broadly apply to anyone in any creative industry who has overbearing superiors and expectant patrons shackling creative intent but the film has a lot more to offer than that subtext underlying Favreau’s career.
Favreau stars as Carl Casper, a respected head cook at an elegant Los Angeles restaurant. His restaurant is about to be reviewed by big time culinary critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) and the pressure seems to be getting to him and his boss, Riva played by Dustin Hoffman. Riva cramps his creativity by wanting to play it safe; “play your biggest hits“ he says and Carl is forced to serve the visiting critic with the tried and tested but now ordinary menu. Needless to say, Michel is not impressed and a scathing review on his blog follows which sears Carl’s pride and passion.
Later on, Carl is introduced to twitter by his young son Percy (Emjay Anthony) so he can follow the online reaction to the critics review but a little more orientation would have helped because Carl ends up replying to a tweet from Michel which unknown to him is in the public domain and the mentions and retweets follow as a mini beef starts and Carl calls out Michel to disastrous effect which precedes a sequence of events that not only sees him lose his job but leads to an embarrassing rant going viral which hurts any future job prospects he might have.
The now unemployed Carl decides to accompany his ex-wife Inez played by Sofia Vegara (who looks like she walked right of the Modern family set and is as stunning as ever) to Miami so he can play nanny to Percy. The Inez character really is the kindest and most supportive ex to grace the movies and you begin to wonder why they are even divorced…definitely Carl’s fault. Inez is concerned for Carl and secretly hopes their trip to Miami, the place it all started for him, will ginger him up and get that fire burning. She links him to her first ex-husband played by Robert Downey Jr who owns the film briefly with his Starkesque charm and anal tendencies. He hooks Carl up with a small food truck with which he hopes to get back to basics.
With Percy and his former line-cook Martin (John Leguizamo) who walks with a permanent spring in his step and drops everything like the loyal soldier he is, Carl to fixes up the food truck and preps for a new business which will have the tasty and spicy looking cubano sandwich as its staple. What follows is a coast to coast road trip which sees the trio pass through food hubs like New Orleans and Austin, Texas where an especially juicy slices of barbecued delight make an appearance. I should warn you not see this film on a empty stomach. Indeed, sneak an assortment food into the cinema if you can just so you can pretend to keep up – popcorn and a coke will not cut it.
The film is really committed to the food angle and significant character developments like the father son bonding over aroma and sizzling oils of the food truck as he imparts his passion to his son. There is this brilliant sequence where he takes his hot friend (Scarlett Johansson) home and dices and spices up a sumptuous dinner for her as she watches on with an ever heightening libido. I never once questioned Favreau as a chef as he operates on scrumptious ingredients like its second nature to him. Favreau and his cast are having a thrill and he shows us how to take a vacation and still make a good film (*cough Blended cough*). Chef may not have the most challenging of plots but it’s a mouth-watering gala of food and a celebration of family that everyone except maybe the vegetarians out there will enjoy.