Stars: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson Written and directed by Jon Favreau
In cinemas nationally
This film comes at the very height of food fandom, where nowadays you can just as easily read a review of a restaurant in your city's broadsheet paper or online via your favourite food blogger. Reality TV programmes such as My Kitchen Rules and Masterchef push the food agenda along by encouraging amateur chefs (except for that one season of Masterchef where they had professionals compete against each other) to cook on TV. Hell, even Tourism Australia has finally got it covered, with their Restaurant Australia campaign that promotes Australia as a foodie destination (and so they should, I hear you say!).
Amongst all this is Chef, and whether you're a foodie or a fan of feel-good films, Chef, by actor/writer/director extraordinaire Jon Favreau, will have you asking for seconds.
Carl Casper (Favreau) is a well-known chef, a little worn out and losing creativity and inspiration, but still managing to run the kitchen of a top restaurant. When he is fired from his job, he hits the road in a food truck with his sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo) and son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and discovers his passion for food – and life – again.
Vomit, I hear you mutter, this storyline has been done a billion times. Maybe so, but it's the delivery and the performances, and geez, especially the food, that takes this a notch above other films with this storyline.
You may not have given Jon Favreau much of a second glance before, but he's been around Hollywood for ages, if not as an actor then as a writer and director. Here, he's all three, and through him we really see Carl's frustrations as both a professional losing his creative mojo and as a father trying to win over his son. Carl's not a bad guy, and there's probably a little bit of him in every one of us. It's very evident that Carl loves his food, and he is trying to pass this love onto his son Percy, who craves quality time with his father. Carl lives in a tiny studio that looks like it's mostly a kitchen (how cool is that!) and there are particularly tender scenes between father and son that aren't schmaltzy at all. When Percy is given a chef's knife it's very touching, like a young squire being given a sword.
This is also a welcome return to the big screen for John Leguizamo, who we haven't really heard from since he was Sid in the Ice Age movies. Every chef needs a sharp-as-a-tack 2IC, and Leguizamo as Martin is just that, and more. The dynamic in the El Jefe food truck between Carl, Martin and Percy is really fun to see, and instead of this being just a boy's own adventure, it looks like the coolest road trip ever.
Sofia Vergara stars as Carl's ex-wife Inez, and although she's kind of Glora-lite here, it is nice to see that she's playing the role of supporting friend and mother, rather than crazy jealous ex-partner, but that's probably more to do with the tone of the film (no unnecessary bitchiness here) than anything else. There's no back-stabbing and competitiveness of this food show, thanks very much. Supporting cast members along for the ride include Dustin Hoffman as Carl's restaurant owner boss, Scarlett Johansson as Carl's sommelier, Robert Downey Jr. (who is hilarious) as Inez's first husband (Favreau was executive producer of The Avengers) and Oliver Platt as the food blogger Carl sees as his nemesis.
The other stars of this film – as cheesy as this will sound – are the food and the soundtrack. Hang on, don't log off! The food shown throughout the film looks DELICIOUS, and it really should, as a film based entirely on a top chef. The producers used prominent American chef Roy Choi (who also runs a food truck business in Los Angeles) as their food consultant. The other star is the soundtrack, which sizzles and pops along like the dialogue and the food. You'll hear everything from Gary Clark Jr. to Pete Rodriguez, and even a New Orleans-inspired version of Sexual Healing.
People enjoy dining out as much for the social aspects as the food they will be eating. This is like Chef. It's just as much about the food Carl is offering as it is about the relationships he is choosing to cultivate. It's also about how he wants to live the rest of his life. When famed Spanish restaurant elBulli shut down in 2011, it was because the management wanted to start over and rediscover their creativity again. Chef's premise is a bit like this too. It's showing us that life is a marathon, not a race, and that if you scoff down your food too quickly, you miss all the flavours.