“Chef” simply wants to do its cooking in its own way. With an ample dose of warm, gentle humor as one of its main ingredients, it wisely takes some time in preparing its dishes in the beginning, and then we are served with many delightful moments as our eyes are fixed toward a number of lovely cookery scenes which will instantly make our tongue and stomach crave for whatever will be served on plates.
When we meet Carl Casper (Jon Favreau, who also wrote, produced, and directed the film), he seems to achieve everything he has ever wanted in his career. Since he started his culinary career in Miami around 10 years ago, he has been rising to the top class of his field as a talented chef, and he is currently working at some classy restaurant in LA with his two colleagues Martin (John Leguizamo) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale).
But there has been growing discontent inside him during recent years. He is getting tired of serving the same dishes again and again to his customers just because these dishes have been popular among customers, and he really wants to try something different when a famous online food critic named Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) is about to visit his restaurant. However, his fastidious restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) does not allow that at all, so Carl serves that critic in question with his usual dinner course as demanded by Riva, and, not so surprisingly, the critic writes a very harsh review on Carl’s cooking.
Deeply hurt by the critic’s thoroughly merciless attack on his dinner course, Carl happens to do his first trial of Twitter, and an unmitigated disaster happens after Carl sends an angry open message to Michel without knowing that everyone can see what he writes on Twitter. Carl gets fired as a consequence, and nobody in his field wants to hire him because of his resulting notoriety on the Internet, which may be forgotten someday but not at this point.
When it looks like he is totally finished, he gets a nice chance through his ex-wife Inez (Sofía Vergara), one of the hottest, warmest, and kindest movie ex-spouses I have ever encountered during recent years. While they divorced probably because of Carl’s failure to balance his life between work and family, they have no hard feeling between them as ‘good friends’, and Inez suggests him that he should start a small culinary business through the help from her first ex-husband (Carl is her No.2, by the way). It will not make much money, but it can solve his current financial problem while giving him the professional freedom he has always wanted – and it may provide some quality time between him and his young son Percy (Emjay Anthony), a smart boy who likes to learn one or two things about his dad’s profession.
Carl is not particularly enthusiastic about this business idea at first, but then he is eventually persuaded by Inez as they come back to Miami together with their son. After receiving a shabby food truck from Inez’s first ex-husband, he begins to clean, repair, and equip his truck step by step with a small help from his son, and they are soon joined by Martin, who gladly helps making the first step of their joint operation although he will be paid much less than before.
The movie lets them roll together along its relaxed plot, and it generates lots of warmth and humor as capturing the small moments of character interaction. While more honestly recognizing that he was not exactly a good father to his son, Carl imparts some of his professional knowledge and disciplines to his son during their work, and they become closer to each other than before as they spend more time with each other in their food truck.
They and Martin start their long journey from Miami to LA later in the story, and the movie is turned into a nice little piece of road movie at that point. While they mainly serve their customers with those Cuban sandwiches, Carl does not ignore local specialties, and we get more yummy sights along with the enjoyable selection of local music on the soundtrack.
The movie is clearly a labor of love for the director Jon Favreau, and he makes it sure that we appreciate every culinary moment in his film. Under the supervision of Roy Choi, a prominent chef who is well known for his Korean taco truck business, the various dishes in the film are presented well enough to stimulate our appetite, and it is also fun to watch various cooking ingredients being prepared on the screen as we are eagerly waiting for final results (yes, this is a film not suitable for empty stomach).
Favreau, whom I still remember for his likable supporting role in “Rudy” (1993), gives an amiable performance with big heart, and you may see an amusing parallel between his directorial career and his character in the film. While he is mainly known for his recent blockbuster films such as “Iron Man” (2008), his early movies “Elf” (2003) and “Zathura” (2005) were small family films with charms, and the movie feels like a refreshing return to his old form. Having established himself as a successful commercial director, Favreau could recruit a bunch of well-known actors including Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson to this personal project of his, and they certainly add flavors to the movie through their juicy supporting performances.
“Chef” is a sweet comedy film with lots of dishes and other goodies to enjoy, and I was satisfied with its service while also tickled by some introspective amusement coming from its food critic character. Maybe I am merely a snobbish amateur connoisseur of films, but I’d love to experience something new or good to write about, and I am always excited or happy whenever encountering such things at movie theaters. Though it does not break any new ground, “Chef” is a joyful experiment on the whole, so here is my little compliment to its chef Jon Favreau.