Jon Favreau’s Chef: Culinary Culture On The Big Screen
In “Chef”, Jon Favreau’s latest movie, he attacks the culinary industry and culture surrounding it with a dagger dripping with blood, only it’s a boning knife that is skillfully breaking down a delicious pig. It’s a movie chiefly about Chef Carl Casper (played by Jon Favreau) and his fall from grace (a super trendy restaurant) and phoenix like rebirth (thanks to a simple food truck). The lost love is mirrored by Casper’s failed marriage and is also shown, in situ, in his relationship with his son. Jon Favreau actually took culinary classes to get everything accurate.
It’s a great movie and they get a lot right, everything from the trendy restaurant owner, the smarmy food blogger to the tattoos. You can tell a lot of thought about the details went into the script. And the food… oh the food! The shots of everything from gourmet dishes to relatively simple sandwiches are treated with equal artist flare. It’s much more than just food porn, it’s authentic love for the culinary art. Early in the movie a whole pig is presented in the kitchen and the cooks discuss how they can use each part of the animal. It turns out that they used an actual pig carcass and it was cut up after the shot and divided among the entire cast and crew so that every part got used in real life.
Unfortunately there are several nitpicky issues that distracted me from the movie. Chiefly among them is that the food truck doesn’t show up until an hour into the movie. The arrival of the food truck is the point of the movie where things start getting better, until it shows up things are falling apart and it gets a bit depressing and “What else can go wrong?”. Another nitpick is that all the problems are solved in ten seconds near the end of the putting tying a quick pretty bow on everything out of the blue. But the story of career and family redemption as well as the trip through culinary culture more than make up for these small faults.
The actors are superb and superbly cast. John Leguizamo is a vulgar loudmouth sidekick to Jon Favreau’s slowly boiling teapot. Big stars like Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr. and Dustin Hoffman play smaller than expected roles and Sofía Vergara, who I usually find annoying and over-the-top is surprisingly calm and the voice of reason in the film. Austinites will also see some familiar faces (no spoilers) when the movie’s food truck pulls into Austin. But the big standout is eleven year old Emjay Anthony. Holy cow, that kid is going to do amazing stuff.
Additionally the soundtrack is one of the best in recent years. It features an instrumental jazzy reworking of Wu-Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M., a big brass band version of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing as well as several fantastic soul, disco and cuban songs.
Chef is the culinary version of Swingers, an inside look, for better or for worse, at a sub-culture. It is also a love letter to food, whether it be fancy, complex, trendy and challenging or simple, hearty and down-to-earth. It is also a tale of redemption and finding your inspiration late in life, things I can definitely relate to.