Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson
114 mins; Class 15; KRS Releasing Ltd
Jon Favreau takes on writing, producing, directing and acting duties as the titular chef, where he plays Carl Casper, a celebrated chef in a trendy Los Angeles restaurant. Carl’s personal life has stalled. He’s divorced from his wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and has a strained relationship with his young son Percy (Emjay Anthony). Yet, he makes up for this with the invent-iveness he brings to his kitchen.
Things fall apart when he clashes with his boss (Dustin Hoffman) over what to prepare for a celebrated food critic and blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt); things go horribly wrong and he loses his job. The journey back to rediscovering his passion for cooking, restoring his self-esteem and finally making peace with his family takes an unusual road.
For Carl ditches his fancy LA address and gleaming, modern, professionally-equipped über-kitchen for a food truck which he kits out to serve homemade Cuban fare. He, his best friend Martin (John Leguizamo) and Percy drive the truck across the US, earning queues of clients and instant fame.
The multi-talented Favreau has run the gamut from working on cult indie fare such as 1996’s Swingers to multi-billion franchises, having directed and appeared in the first two instalments of Marvel’s Iron Man. The feeling that he wanted to do something really personal resonates throughout Chef, what with the obvious small budget spent, the intimacy of the story and the eclectic cast of characters. In Chef he has created an amiable family comedy that will warm the cockles of your heart … and whet your appetite to a dangerous degree.
Favreau is clearly a food buff and knows his stuff, creating in Carl a character that is believable both as a successful chef and a less successful family man. His screenplay tells the story of a man at a crossroads in both his personal and professional lives in a way that is honest and authentic, and funny and touching. Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara gets to show off her comedic chops, but as the understanding and patient Inez, gets to show a bit of a serious side.
Ensure you either eat a massive meal before watching Chef, or have supper plans for afterwards
Young Anthony as Percy nails the emotions of a young kid dealing with his parents’ separation – while his skills with social media come in handy, the film expertly using the likes of Twitter and YouTube to propel the narrative forward without being too clever about it (a video that goes viral of Carl’s rant against the critic is a particular highlight).
Favreau’s pulling power is clearly very strong, his contacts list quite extensive. When you get the likes of Robert Downey Jr (honing his amazing ability of being slightly obnoxious yet lovable at the same time as Inez’s first husband who offers Carl a lifeline), Dustin Hoffman as the restaurant boss stifling Carl’s creativity and Scarlett Johansson as the restaurant manager, in what amount to rich cameo roles, you are clearly on to something.
And finally – a word of advice. Ensure you either eat a massive meal before you watch Chef, or make sure you have supper plans afterwards as the astonishing display of fare that Carl and his cohorts cook up is droolingly mouth-watering. From the exquisitely-designed dishes he creates in the restaurant and the spaghetti dish Johansson is clearly enjoying in one scene, to the ridiculously appetising tacos prepared in the food truck – there are only so many close-ups that you can take of food being lovingly prepared, and I assure you, you will leave the cinema capable of consuming an entire banquet.