All good food movies allow you to visually eat the cuisine, the better ones leave you hungry to make it.
There is a scene in Chef, directed by and starring Jon “Iron Man Movie” Favreau, where he teaches his son how to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwhich. The results are so delectable and the consumption so delightful that I had my wife replicate that recipe for me for a few days. And I hate grill cheese sandwiches! Such is the power of wonderfully shot, eloquently prepped cuisine on the cineaste stomach.
Carl Casper’s food journey goes from nouvelle cuisine to comfort food, finally planting roots in the perfection of the lowly Cuban sandwich hawked from a food truck. Never mind that this perfection comes from refining the food of another ethnic culture, with an assistant that is Puerto Rican (John Leguizamo) and a hot Colombian ex-wife played by Sofia Vergara. That’s just part of the perks that come for a director looking to re-establish his Indie cred– Scar Jo, RDJ, and Dustin Hoffman gladly sign for the extended cameo. You also get a plot break that not only allows you to reconnect with food but your ten-year-old son.
The main conflict revolves around Carl’s feud with a food blog writer (Oliver Platt) that happens to be the less than 1% of reviewers that announce their presence in your restaurant days in advance. It is a smart way to get in Techno ads for Twitter and YouTube. I’ll take it in lieu of a typical voice over narration.
When Chef hits the road, it’s content to ride along on discovering good food, good dialogue and reconnecting with family and friends. That looseness allows Chef to be funny and heart-felt.
Favreau stuffs the frame with characters that can’t always adequately express the love they have for each other. It allows the actors to get some lovely bits of emotion in as they express their hopes, dreams and miracles.
Favreau is a director that delight in showing and not telling. He connects with the everyday details of food prep, running and advertising a restaurant, keeping everything grounded by getting the details right. Chef is a celebration of teamwork, hard work and the joy of getting it perfect.
Chef also argues that food is the true melting pot, the one thing that can bring people together and prod a little change.
Chef might be little more than a travelogue that makes stops in Miami, New Orleans and Austin, but at least it satisfies your craving.