For the past few years Chef writer director Jon Favreau has been firmly living in the studio system. Big budgets, big names, big bangs and CGI special effects. Chef sees the former Swinger get back to his more simplistic roots and in doing so shows that when you strip back the set pieces and Hollywood glamour he’s a masterful story teller and one whom can cook up a storm when given a little freedom.
Carl Casper (Favreau) is a well-respected chef in Los Angels but when a big-time blogger (Oliver Platt) calls him out for becoming boring Carl has a bit of a meltdown on Twitter, loses his job and a whole lot of self-respect. Heading to Miami with ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergera) and their son Percy (Emjay Anthony) Carl is inspired to get back to his original love of cooking. Getting his hands on a food-truck he enlists the help of his former sous-chef Martin (John Leguizamo) and heads out on the road with Percy to fall back in love with making real food for real people.
Chef should come with a warning; Eat before viewing. Because this film is a serious case of food-porn. Favreau’s mini-tour of the good old US of A takes in all manner of eclectic cuisine to have your mouth watering. Every bit of crisping bread, sliced juicy meat, greasy, deep-fried brilliance will have you salivating like few other films ever dream of.
But more than the food itself Chef feels like a hugely personal film for the man behind two Iron Man movies and the hugely under-cooked Cowboys & Aliens. The opening act sees Carl raging against the confines of a kitchen that is not his, a kitchen in which he is forced to cook what he is told. Add to this the emotional pain he suffers at the hands of a critic and it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that Chef is Favreau’s, perhaps subconscious, way of telling the world he no longer wants to make the happy meal selling films of his recent career with ingredients forced upon him.
That’s not to say Favreau isn’t averse to using a few A-list ingredients as cameos from Iron Man muckers Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson demonstrate. But perhaps more than anything Chef highlights that Favreau, while an accomplished director, is an excellent writer. The film’s narrative sizzles thanks to the emotion his script infuses with the father trying to do right by his son while also re-finding his own place in the world. Sure the final scene feels a little over-egged but for the most part it simmers to smile inducing perfection.
Like the Cubano sandwiches Carl serves up Chef is golden brown on the outside with a tender juicy middle to make you melt.