Carl “El Jefe” Casper (Jon Favreau) is a talented chef in a popular Los Angeles restaurant. However, he feels pigeonholed by the “old standards” menu preferred by restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman), who insists Casper uses the typical menu for even though a prominent critic, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), is coming to review the restaurant. Meanwhile, Casper has trouble connecting with his young son Percy (Emjay Anthony), because even though he spends time with him he’s always focused on his work as a chef. Percy’s mother and Casper’s ex-wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara), whom Casper has a good relationship, encourages Casper to make a change in order to get his passion back. Inez proves to be correct when the critic trashes the food and, when Casper doesn’t respond well, he finds himself a chef without a job. Traveling with Inez and Percy back to Miami where he started as a chef, Casper begins his road back by starting a food truck that not only helps him get his mojo back as a chef, but also helps build the relationship between Casper and his son.
Favreau might be best known these days for shooting big budget films like Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Cowboys & Aliens, but Chef is a callback to his debut as a screenwriter with 1996’s Swingers. It might sound like a small-stakes movie, but that doesn’t mean Chef isn’t an extremely entertaining movie about finding your way back after losing one’s passion or becoming complacent. It also examines how social media has impacted the livelihood of even old school professions like cooking.
What’s most wonderful about Chef is that it is not formulaic at all. I kept waiting for a crisis in the second act, or some sort of sequence that a Hollywood movie about chefs would undoubtedly have (like some old wise man telling Casper, “You were born to be a chef — be who you are!”). Favreau, likely trying to shake-off his Hollywood restrictions, has a ball with this film. The supporting cast members — which in addition to Hoffman and Platt includes John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Sedaris, and a scene-stealing Robert Downey, Jr. — are all also clearly relishing the opportunity to be in such a fun film that doesn’t confine itself to Hollywood storytelling.
Chef also make your stomach growl because of the visually gorgeous food that is featured without, and since we unfortunately can’t taste what’s on the screen Favreau is sure to bombard us with imagery and even clever sound design to appeal to our other senses. Part of that is thanks to Favreau’s secret weapon: Chef Roy Choi, who serves as co-producer and technical adviser of the film. It’s no surprise that this little indie film went on to gross over $30 million in the U.S.
Chef is being released in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack.
Commentary with Jon Favreau and Ryan Choi — Favreau always does get commentary for his films, but Chef might be his crowning achievement. Favreau goes into every detail about how he shot this low-budget film yet made sure that it looked and felt like a much bigger production — and why by making it an indie feature he was able to play with expectations and structure. He also goes into detail about how in both cooking and in film a bad review can be career-ending in the social media age. It’s not difficult to see the parallels. Surprisingly, Choi reveals that he knows much more about filmmaking than you would suspect. Thankfully, both also explain why Casper’s character “punches above his weight class” in terms of women (because let’s face it — Jon Favreau and Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara?)
Deleted Scenes — Chef might already be too long for some audiences at one hour and fifty minutes, so it’s completely understandable why these ten and a half minutes of deleted scenes were excised from the final cut. They’re all extraneous to the narrative, especially the outtakes of Amy Sedaris, which are funny, but simply too goofy for the film.
Movie Review: An endlessly enjoyable feel-good movie that is in essence cinematic comfort food (8.5/10).
Disc Rating: A little short on the features, but the commentary is excellent (5/10).
Chef is now available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.