Never in a theatre have I sensed so much collective salivating. Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is the kind of guy who stress-cooks and anger-bakes, and it’s not like my version of slamming a pot down on the stove, brutally throwing in the pasta, and violently stirring the Mac with the Cheese (although this process can be very therapeutic). Chef Carl prefers to pan-fry tuna fillets, artistically spread curry sauce, and sprinkle the dust of cracked caramel over a bowl of fresh berries and whipped cream. Chef is one foodgasm after another. Not sure what that means? Stop reading, right now, and go eat a butter tart. Go. Right now.
That’s a foodgasm. This movie is full of them. People were ooo-ing, ah-ing, and mmm-ing at frequent intervals, with occasional “good God”s thrown in for variety. It must be a challenge to make a movie taste good, but Chef achieves this without a problem. It’s like Ratatouille with more swearing and fewer rats.
The film begins with Chef Carl prepping to impress the food critic of all food critics. While Carl would prefer to dazzle him with his creativity, Carl’s boss and restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) forces him to stick to the outdated crowd favourites. As such, the critic is less than impressed and gives Chef Carl a terrible and personally insulting review. Carl then discovers Twitter and things get nasty. With his career in shambles and his ex-wife’s publicist recommending an audition for Hell’s Kitchen, Carl decides it’s time for a big change and invests in a food truck – the rustiest, dustiest, most unhygienic food truck you’ve ever seen. There is no question that at some point something made a home in this truck and then proceeded to curl up and die there. Thankfully Carl isn’t alone in his venture; with the help of his ten-year-old son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), and his sous-chef, Martin (John Leguizamo), Carl pulls everything together and begins the most epic and delicious road trip in father-son history.
Aside from some ridiculous cooking and mouth-watering dishes, Chef finds a perfect balance between an adult’s troubles (job, family, money, and reputation) and a kid’s
troubles (the internet failing and having chores to do). Somehow the story makes you relate to both the son and the father, seeing the world through both perspectives and understanding both sides of the story. It sucks that Carl has to start fresh but it also sucks that Percy has to scrape the crusty deep-fryer that the something died in. Carl could be the hero, but so could Percy. It’s a beautiful ambiguity.
Outside of the food truck, Chef is layered with recognizable faces in little supporting roles: Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Vergara, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Peters, and as mentioned previously, Dustin Hoffman. What on earth is a small indie film doing with all these big-name actors? I can only imagine that the director (Jon Favreau) bribed them with epic, mood-altering, life-changing, horizon-broadening sandwiches.
From start to finish Chef emanates joy. At one point I asked myself, where did the conflict go? But I honestly didn’t care that it was missing. Chef just makes you feel so happy and so hungry. (Spoiler: I will say, though, that the wedding at the end was rushed. It wasn’t unexpected, but with so much time spent between father and son, there wasn’t much of a chance to build the re-kindling romance between Carl and Inez. One accidental “I love you” over the phone and the venue is practically booked.) Spoiler Free:
Chef is a fantastic movie to see with friends… on a full stomach… with reservations pending at a slightly-more-expensive-than-usual restaurant. It invites you to groan and drool over the dishes and laugh in admiration at the father/son relationship. It really is the kind of film you’ll want to chat through, making comedic observations or expressing your famishment for hot-pressed Cuban sandwiches with smoked beef, melted cheese, juicy pickles, and a thin, creamy layer of hot sauce. Oh hell, 9/10, I’m going to make a sandwich.
Drool over the trailer.