Set initially in LA, the movie opens with Chef Carl Casper (Favreau) preparing a new menu for the restaurant in which he is executive chef. He plans to unveil the menu that night when an important food critic, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), will be dining in the restaurant. However, he is emphatically discouraged from doing so by the restaurant’s owner (Dustin Hoffman), so Carl changes his plans and goes with the tried and true instead. The critic is unimpressed and savages Carl in his review. Before long the review is all over the Twitterverse and when Carl, a very inexperienced Twitter user responds, he makes matters a lot worse. Hoping to dig himself out of the gigantic hole into which he has fallen, Carl decides to do a tasting menu at the restaurant and show the critic what he can really do. With his young son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), who is with him for the weekend, he goes food shopping. During the expedition you can see how much Percy adores his father and how interested he is in cooking. Unfortunately, the evening doesn’t go as planned and Carl is ultimately fired. His ex-wife, Inez (Sofía Vergara), with whom he remains on good terms, perhaps for the sake of their son, perhaps for something more, encourages him to go into the food truck business and cook what he loves. He says no to that idea, but agrees to accompany her and Percy on her business trip to Miami, acting as Percy’s nanny. Miami is where Carl and Inez met and where Inez’s father still lives. It’s in Miami that Carl realizes just what it is he wants to do with his life.
“Chef” is exceptionally cast. Favreau is extremely believable as chef and father. His scenes with his staff (John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale) feel very real and there seems to be a genuine chemistry with them. It’s refreshing to see Vergara do something different from her customary bombshell role and she and Favreau work very well together. Although I hated seeing Dustin Hoffman as such a prick, at least he is a very good one. But the movie’s true find is Emjay Anthony. He is absolutely adorably perfect as the young Percy. He seems like a real child…he never has a false note and is an utter joy to watch; his chemistry with Favreau is off the charts. And in a shout-out to the casting department, he actually looks like he could be the son of Vergara and Favreau. In smaller, but important roles, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey, Jr. round out a terrific supporting cast.
Favreau’s script seems to truly capture the life of a chef…celebrity or not. He shows how hard it is for a chef to have a personal life and demonstrates how at the mercy of the owner a chef truly is. Favreau also has a great understanding of social media and how it can impact businesses and lives. With Percy as our guide, we really learn a lot about this whole new world and it’s very entertainingly told. One must also mention the film’s delightful score which only serves to enhance the film. Each song just fits…it’s that simple. The movie’s only misstep is when Inez’s publicist, in an effort to help, suggests that Carl audition for “Hell’s Kitchen.” Anyone who watches the caliber of cooking on that show knows that Carl would be way too talented for it.
Finally there is the food…OMG…the food. When you watch Carl butter the bread for a simple grilled cheese sandwich and want to jump through the screen to eat it, you know you are in for a treat. Every portion…every bite…looks scrumptious. I’m a vegetarian and this is the first time I ever thought about going back to eating meat. And you’ll swear that you can actually smell the variety of aromas as Carl prepares each dish.
Sometimes unpretentious movies have a way of truly reaching one while entertaining at the same time. In the days of endless special effects, never-ending battles and way over the top music, “Chef” speaks to one’s senses in a more emphatic way than those other movies ever could. It’s a truly perfect movie. Just some advice—come to “Chef” on either a full stomach or have dinner reservations for a wonderful restaurant immediately following the film.