In the Dark with Melanie Dishman: 'Chef'
Jon Favreau, the beefy actor who is usually more behind the camera these days, stars in his own project as Carl Casper, a L.A. chef on the rise who is not without ego. It’s a great premise to launch what amounts to a feel-good foodie fest that wraps a road/buddy pic into a romcom — all of which together makes for a tasty dish.
Casper runs afoul of his employer (played by an imperious Dustin Hoffman) when a snarky restaurant blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) deigns to dine at their restaurant. Chef and owner cannot agree on the menu and when owner wins out favoring the old favorites instead of something altogether new, Michel doles out a dour review that unfortunately makes personal attacks on Casper for the entertainment of his readers.
Casper’s ensuing rant goes viral on social media (the pros and cons of this medium becoming an ongoing theme), leaving him humiliated and out of a job, so when his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) invites him to travel to Miami as a chaperone for their young son Percy (Emjay Anthony), Casper accepts, hoping to get his creative mojo stirring again in the city where he earned his cooking chops.
All of this leads to a food truck and a concept and an eventual trip back to L.A., but there is so much more meat on the bone of this story. While Casper and his sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo) perfect the Cuban menu they’ll dish up, Casper also bonds with the son he really hasn’t had time for lately. There are also sparks with Inez indicating the divorce might be final, but the feelings aren’t.
Favreau, who both wrote and directed “Chef,” is by no means stranger to what makes a successful film, and he has peppered this one with all the ingredients audiences like and served it up as a fresh alternative to the steady diet of junky summer fare that we’ve become sated on mid-way through the season.
He even persuades “Iron Man” star Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson to take what are basically throw away parts in this film, obviously based on just doing a solid for their friend. Favreau directed “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2” and then co-starred with Downey in “Iron Man 3.”
Like a great flavor profile, this movie hits all the right notes in the dish, although you could argue it does it in a very simplistic fashion. There is no doubt from the first frame that you know exactly where it’s going and how it’s going to get there. Still it’s highly enjoyable, particularly the food preparation parts that are mostly frontloaded into the proceedings. Sensual close ups of sautéing veggies and slicing raw bacon are some of the sexiest scenes in this family-rated film, and no doubt designed to be savored by gourmands.
The cross-country leg of the movie includes a lengthy stop in Austin where the truck parks in front of Guero’s, a local Tex-Mex joint with live music. While it’s debatable this institution would let a food truck sell Cuban sandwiches curbside in front of the restaurant, it makes for a great scene featuring favored Austin musicians on stage.
You might even find this movie so delightful as a welcome respite from the giant robots and superheroes that you’ll be tempted to go back for seconds from “Chef.”