Previously I’ve worked in a reasonably classy hotel restaurant for 4 years and have witnessed first-hand the camaraderie between the chefs and seldom the odd tiff between kitchen and management that Jon Favreau’s newest film “Chef” demonstrates so clearly.
At said restaurant our head chef used to be this mountainous Frenchman, Laurent, booming voice and all. I’m partially conditioned to immediately stopping what I’m doing whenever I hear the word “service” now thanks to this man. The menu was beautiful. Venison, lamb, duck, beef dishes to name a few. Though season to season throughout those four years the presentation of each dish or the sauce changed a little there was never really anything adventurous that could really put the restaurant on the map.
Carl Casper (Favreau) has worked Head Chef in the same Venice beach restaurant for over a decade and triumphantly commands a renowned kitchen, he maintains happy staff on his side of the pass and is churning out gourmet food week in week out. He’s a much better cook than his predictable, tried and tested menu portrays him as though. When his stale menu causes an important encounter with a prestigious food blogger (who was originally a fan of the restaurant) to go sour Casper eventually erupts and quits his job. Here, just like in the kitchen I used to work at (and so many other occupations) consistent success is often valued much higher than experimentation and gradual evolution of a healthy business. This often comes at the cost of staff satisfaction. The film continues with Oscar, his son (Emjay Anthony) and his incredibly loyal, helpful sous-chef Martin (John Leguizamo) embarking on a funny, fulfilling adventure across America into the unknown that is the food truck business in a kind of “Office Space” meets the food channel romp.
This satisfaction and contentment scenario is one of many real-world situations presented to us in “Chef”, one of many because this is film is quite impressively realistic. The date is quite clearly now give or take a year or two. “Do the other kids have iPhones?” Oscar asks his son, yes, to answer that, nowadays most 10 year olds probably do have a medley of Apple products. The working environments feel real, the relationships have problems and the lead has his flaws which helps us to sympathise.
Though not the most technical film there is still a very savvy feel to the plot and how it has been arranged. Gorgeous, voluptuous food porn that features heavily in the first act and a half had me salivating like Homer Simpson; especially one particular cheesy, grilled number. The extensive use of tablets, iPhones, popular internet videos and Tweet projections work well under the plots context and don’t feel cheesy at all on the other hand (“I’m everywhere like a cat on a keyboard”). The honesty of the relationship between Oscar and his son (a child coping with the realities of divorced parents) is also credible, touching in fact, several moments had me on the verge of tears.
I do have a couple of complaints though. This is another example of film where female characters are wooden, isolated and uninteresting. Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara are both absolutely gorgeous (a scene snapping between a seductive Scarlett and a mouth-watering pasta dish caused an acute temperature anomaly beneath my collar) but all they do is completely focused on if the happiness of our leading male can be achieved or routinely and kind of annoyingly checking up on Oscar and his son, just in case they’re having too much fun, of course. Secondly, and maybe it’s just because I’ve listened to Kermode’s audiobook which has a section dedicated to this topic, I had a sense that scenes where the critic (blogger) were involved were a little unfair on the side of the critic when like Oscar, he’s just doing his job.
“Chef” made me laugh a lot (Oscar’s naïve misuse of twitter…still laughing), tugged on my fondness for the coming age genre and forced me to think about what could be if I were able to do whatever I’m passionate about for a living; something it truly deserves credit for.
A really nice watch, proving once again that Favreau can make films that are money without lots of explosions, an extra seasoning of complexity throughout would have been more to my palate though. 7.6/10.
TL;DR: Glossy food porn and a middle finger to stifling creativity, served in a warm realistic success-story with a side of comedy and morality. “Chef” hits the spot if you’re looking for something light but could leave those looking for hard-hitting flavours a little underwhelmed.