Every film critic has one. A list of their favorite films involving food. The movies that make mouths water with magnificent morsels being prepared and consumed on the screen. My short list includes Like Water for Chocolate, Big Night, Eat Drink Man Woman and of late, Jiro Dreams Of Sushi. Now I have added another film to this list of food films that make me hungry. Chef, from writer/director/star Jon Favreau gets two big forks up.
“Carl Casper” (Favreau) is a chef whose star rose rapidly when he burst on the scene years ago. Now he is the chef at a restaurant owned by “Riva” (Dustin Hoffman) and as the film opens, one of the most important food bloggers around is going to be in that night to review the place. The pressure is on. Carl wants to revamp the menu, making new dishes rather than keep the same old stuff. Riva is opposed, more concerned about the paying customers than pleasing a reviewer and he gets his way. As a result, Casper’s fare is judged as being only fair, if that. Thinking that he’s sending a private message to the critic, “Ramsey Michel” (Oliver Platt) through social media, Carl insults him. Naturally the message wasn’t private and goes viral.
Carl’s life was already complicated. He’s divorced, he’s too busy trying to re-achieve success and happiness through his art to be a good father to his son “Percy” (Emjay Anthony)and his perceived control over the kitchen at Riva’s may not be what he thinks it is. Soon he’s unemployed and helping his ex-wife “Inez” (Sofia Vergara) out as she takes Carl and Percy to Miami where she has work. Things come together and Carl finds himself the owner of a food truck and en route back to Los Angeles with Percy, and “Martin” (John Leguizamo), one of his former kitchen staff sharing this new adventure.
Food is a great metaphor for life, in both the broadest and narrowest examinations. It is a basic survival need but can also push someone to the pinnacle of Maslov’s mythical pyramid of self-actualization. Food is both art and science, and can satisfy physical and emotional hunger. Favreau captures all of this as we see the utter joy in his life when he is creating in his kitchen. One of the smartest things that he did in making this movie was to enlist the services of Roy Choi, an amazing chef who is one of the founders of the food truck movement, as his technical expert. The expected moral messages and comedic elements are all here in appropriate measures, stirred and mixed with care and provide a delicious feast for the eyes and ears.
There’s no point in having a meal before seeing Chef. You will leave the auditorium hungry. So go in hungry and make sure you have plans to eat somewhere with awesome eats after seeing Chef. This is one of those times you want a movie and dinner, rather than dinner and a movie.