Sean Smithson

CHEF Plates Up A Sentimental And Fun Meal

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Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a sub-lebrity chef working in an upscale, but uneventful restaurant, cooking a menu that has become rote, cliche, and lifeless. When the chef and his team, mainly two right hand men Martin and Tony (John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale), have a chance to really shine when local power-blogging food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) informs them he is coming, the restaurant’s uncreative owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) insists that the artists in his kitchen “cook the hits”.

This, of course, leads to a horrible review, and and eventual Chef Casper blowing up on Michel in the middle of his restaurant, where the chef spews a venomous monolog that ends up going viral as a video on social networking. Soon, he parts ways with the food he’d been making for ten years, and is free floating and out of work.

This isn’t Casper’s only life-issue either. Even more important, is the son he shares with his beautiful ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara). Little Percy (Emjay Anthony) just wants and needs some quality time with his father, who is always consumed by work. After things pretty much completely implode on Casper, he finally agrees to meet with (hold on now it gets a little confusing) his ex-wife’s other ex-husband (Robert Downey Jr.) and field an offer to start a food wagon.
We all know one of the Golden Sentimental Movie tropes is “If you build it they will come”, and build it they do. When Casper refurbishes the rundown food truck (in a father-son oding montage scene that see’s them make the fastest food truck restoration team in the universe) and starts cooking the Cubano food of his wife’s (oops! Ex-wife’s I mean…) culture the food truck becomes a traveling sensation, as Casper, his son, and his loyal line-man Martin drive the truck from Miami to Los Angeles. The wee lad is of course a social networking wizard, and spins the trip into a money making journey. Of course, when he and his father make it back home they have found a new closeness, as father passes the culinary torch to his small son, and possibly…finds his way back to love again with Inez.

Cornball? Yes. But CHEF is also an extremely solid piece of sentimental wish-fulfillment film making. What’s wrong with a little fantasy daydream dressed up with set pieces featuring delicious looking food, and carrying a message of “teach your children well”? Not a thing I say.

Full disclosure: I work in the kitchen of an award winning Salt Lake City restaurant. I took one of my chef’s to see the review screening I attended, and we found ourselves laughing at little touches some of the other critics in the room were silent about. When Chef Casper’s hand hovers over ingredients, momentarily doubting himself, and knowing that the least bit of something can ruin culinary perfection. When Casper explains the importance, versatility, and functionality of a proper chef’s knife. When they find a grease trap that has been closed far too long (well, everyone laughed at that!). So, for anyone who has worked in the proverbial back of the house, preparing food for a constant stream of hungry customers, CHEF is satisfying. I bet it also tastes darned good to anyone who likes a good food flick, or coming of age story. Sentimental. Corny. But very entertaining.

Other entertainments for those who may like CHEF –
Babette’s Feast (DVD)
The Big Night (DVD)
Jiro Dream’s Of Sushi (DVD)
Anthony Bourdaine’s Kitchen Confidential (book, ebook, and audio book)

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