Written and directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Emjay Anthony, and Scarlett Johansson
Available to stream on Netflix
Chef is the story of a man. Not a hero, not an underdog, just a guy navigating life. Jon Favreau plays Carl Casper, a talented, successful chef who finds himself at a crossroads. In short, he must decide between his passion for food and his job. Of course he chooses his passion (or there would be no movie), finds himself unemployed, unhappy, and lost. The rest of the movie is him trying to find his happy place. Spoiler alert–he does.
Carl has a son, Percy, charmingly portrayed by Emjay Anthony. Although his dad is a total ass to him a lot of the time, he does his best to be a good son. He’s honest, he’s affectionate, and he teaches his dad how to use Twitter. Good kid. The movie wouldn’t be possible without Percy. He’s the force that causes Carl to change, and boy does he change.
In the crucial, much-anticipated character beat of the movie, Carl decides to ditch the restaurant life and start a food truck business. He goes back to his roots, cooking simple but scrumptious sandwiches in cities across the country. The food is very popular, and he gains a huge following. More importantly, he finds what he’s looking for, and he becomes a better person. Chef works because we see a character really growing, learning from his mistakes and making the necessary improvements to change his life.
Ok, character development, relationships, blah blah blah…so what about the food? It’s magnetizing. What makes the portrayal of the food so brilliant is that we get to see the process. There’s love evident in every pinch of spice, every sprinkling of garnish, and every slice of meat. It’s a masterpiece of culinary flourishes, more about the creative process than the resulting dish. We care less that Carl’s food tastes good than we do that he’s having a good time making it, and building a relationship with his son while he’s at it.
I’ve never been a chef. My name would never come up in a restaurant critique. But I did work at the same pizzeria for almost ten years. I understand the joy of cooking, and this movie captures it as best as a movie can I think–the feeling of pride when you finish that perfect dish; the ecstasy of seeing your beautiful creation being realized; the satisfaction when you hand it off to a customer who will (hopefully) love it as much as you.
There’s a moment in the movie when Carl, his sous chef, and his son see a huge line leading out from the food truck. Many cooks would be mortified at the thought of that much work ahead of them. But Carl and his gang are elated–this is what they live for. It’s also what brings them closer, and really that’s what it all boils down to.