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Interview: Jon Favreau talks ‘Chef,’ food culture, and Marvel Cinematic Universe

Jon Favreau and Emjay Anthony in 'Chef'
Jon Favreau and Emjay Anthony in 'Chef'
Photo courtesy of Open Road Films, used with permission

They say that the fastest way to the heart is through the stomach – a sentiment proved all too true by Jon Favreau’s latest film, “Chef.” Written, directed and starring Favreau, his latest indie effort tells the story of Carl Casper (Favreau), a chef who quits his job at a fancy L.A. restaurant after being forced by the owner (Dustin Hoffman) to stifle his creativity time and time again. He then heads to Miami, and with the help of his son (Emjay Anthony), best friend (John Leguizamo) and ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), starts a food truck, giving him the opportunity to finally cook food that he believes in. Favreau recently stopped by the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, where he shed some light on what inspired the story, his fascination with social media, and life after “Iron Man.”

How did you come up with the idea for this story?

Jon Favreau: I’m intrigued by food culture. It’s fascinating to me that chefs are like the new rock stars and that people will watch hours and hours of television shows with food that they’ll never taste -- they’re so intrigued by the specificity of the preparation and what the vision of each chef is. And I just felt that there hadn’t been a movie that showed that world yet.

One of my favorite aspects of this movie is how you incorporated social media. Why was this something that was important to you to include?

Favreau: Well I just felt that social media was part of the language now. I didn’t think of it as a social media movie, but it’s like back in the time when we were doing “Swingers,” the answering machine is a big part of that movie because that was part of the culture. And Twitter now is very much a part of the culture that we’re dealing with, and I thought that there was an opportunity to have good dramatic and comedic effect to show what could go wrong if somebody gets involved with social media who doesn’t know what he’s doing – especially if he’s somebody who is overly emotional and not too restrained.

“Iron Man” was ground zero for what has now become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How does it feel looking back, especially now that Marvel has expanded into such a hugely successful franchise?

Favreau: It’s cool but it’s also very weird, because when we started with “Iron Man,” it was the first movie of Marvel Studios – Marvel Studios was a company that was going to negative pickup independent films with a bank loan and have it be distributed through Paramount. And if we screwed up “Iron Man,” the whole company could have gone under. So there was a lot of pressure on us, and nobody expected much of the name “Iron Man;” they never heard of it before. And now seeing that the audiences liked it, seeing the sequels make more and more money, and now expanding it out to “Captain America,” “Thor” and “The Avengers” – now they’re really on a roll. I’ve read that Marvel is the most successful franchise in movie history. So it’s very strange to watch something go from being an underdog to being part of the establishment. But I’m happy to be a part of that family and still continue to collaborate with them.

Your character in this movie is a guy who has pretty much lost all creative control and is yearning to cook things that he believes in. Have you had a similar experience working with big studios, where limitations were put on you?

Favreau: Fortunately because I’ve done well as a director, I’m given a voice in the movies that I’m involved with, even the big ones. And although you have to collaborate on the higher budget films, I’ve never felt that I haven’t had my fair say in the creative process. I think I’m more understanding of the real economics of dealing with a movie where you’re spending over 100 million dollars – there’s a lot on the line and people have to be comfortable with what you’re doing. But I will say that there’s a freedom and an excitement when you make a smaller film and don’t have to answer to anybody. And it’s nice to go off and do a solo album every once in a while, where you could just express yourself completely. And especially knowing that you have the safety of going back to doing studio movies – like I’m going to do “The Jungle Book” next with Disney. So it’s a different set of challenges and a different set of opportunities that each medium provides you with.

“Chef” hits Miami Beach theaters on May 16th. For showtimes, click here