Actor, writer, producer Jon Favreau known for numerous films including Iron Man has created a movie focused on a chef’s life simply called Chef. Co-producer, technical advisor and instructor Chef Roy Choi of the Kogi Food Truck culinary empire insisted on a realistic presentation of a chef’s life in the kitchen on the screen. Favreau, per Choi, was a sponge for learning techniques and did his due diligence as a short term student at culinary school and stagiaire in Choi’s Sunny Spot restaurant.
There is no denying that to be a chef takes a very special dedication, passion…real passion. A burn, a cut doesn’t stop a chef in the kitchen, they continue on. A number of years ago in a cooking class in a restaurant kitchen the chef intent on what he was teaching got distracted and ended up pouring boiling water over his hand. There was a student who was a nurse who offered to do first aid, but no he continued to teach the class. A burn, a cut doesn’t stop real chefs, they are unwavering these men and women behind the line. This brings up a personal peeve, the lack of women in the movie’s restaurant kitchen which was staffed male cooks Martin (John Leguizamo) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale). I may have seen a shadow of a woman in the kitchen background during a phone call scene but it went by too quickly. There are numerous women chefs from executive to garde manger working just as hard – check out www.womenchefs.org.
In the opening scene of this comedy, Jon Favreau’s character Executive Chef Carl Casper at a white linen restaurant is focused on dinner service, knowing that a very renowned food critic was coming in that evening. Distracted, he dashes out to get his 10 year old son who he had forgotten to pick up. The chef and his son then go to the farmers market to pick up additional produce for that evening’s menu. Chef explains to the farmers market vendor he uses the greens of the radishes as well as the radishes themselves and they should be perfect. There one sees early on the commitment of the chef, the strained relationship with his son who lives with his mother and the intensity building over the dinner review. Understand, I don’t know too many critics that announce they are coming in for a review, so I have to assume they just happened to find out.
High fives to the tattoo/makeup artist that bedecked Favreau’s arms with a chef’s knife and whole hog on his forearms and his fingers tattooed E L on one hand and J E F E on the other which translates to “the chief” or “the boss.” But in essence Chef Casper really wasn’t the boss, like many chefs today who are promised carte blanche in the kitchen only to have owners renege as did Riva (Dustin Hoffman). Forced to serve his standard menu selections chef sent dishes that hadn’t changed in over decade like an appetizer of an egg with caviar and ending in a chocolate molten cake.
The food critic character Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), who’s real-life brother Adam Platt is the food critic in New Yorker Magazine, earlier in Chef Casper’s career was a strong proponent of his cuisine now writes the review that no chef would want. Of the chocolate molten cake, Ramsey Michael says, and I paraphrase, “I would prefer the chef sit on my face after a rigorous walk on a warm day than have to take another bite of the outdated and uninspired chocolate lava cake.” There were numerous slurs.
A social media (Twitter) war ensues between Casper and the critic packing the restaurant with reservations. Casper tries once again to prepare “his” kind of food for the critic and again he was thwarted by the restaurant owner. A chocolate molten cake rampage that evening by chef sets the scene for a new journey with his son. The back drop becomes the road trip from Miami to Los Angeles with a plethora of music and tantalizing food.
Eat before you go to see this movie or be prepared with a solid reservation to dine afterward. Here are just a couple of scenes that whet my appetite:
The restaurant’s front of house manager Molly (Scarlett Johansson) and chef’s main squeeze consumes a plate of pasta Carl fixed for her at his apartment. Her facial expressions said it all in her first bite.
The grilled cheese sandwich chef prepares for his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony) that absolutely oozes the melted cheese as he cuts it and creates strings of cheese from his knife to the sandwich.
A stop in Texas at the real life Franklin BBQ with Chef Aaron Franklin playing himself brings a whole pork BBQ roast to the picnic table. Chef Casper pulls out his knife and slices off a taste and his whole posse can’t stop eating it – you’ll just want to be at that same table with them picking at the roast.
For chefs and restaurant workers who go see this movie they will appreciate the realism insisted on by Chef Choi, for the folks who love to take snaps of their food and share on Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and are immersed in social media there is plenty for you as well, and for those who love to watch cooking shows or love to cook you won’t want to miss the movie.
In culinary terms Chef get’s 3 ½ toques out of 5. It is entertaining, engaging characters, and somewhat predictable but you enjoy the journey. It will become a classic in the food genre movies like Eat, Drink, Man, Woman or First Night. In my non-culinary rating terms it is worth a full price ticket. Find your theater
Chef – www.chefthefilm.com Twitter/Instagram @CheftheFilm
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