Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a man who has lost his way. He is head chef at a very swanky Los Angeles restaurant owned by a man named Riva (Dustin Hoffman). Carl has lost his mojo, his passion for cooking, and he is close to losing his son. He is divorced from Inez (Sofia Vergara), and while he has weekly sessions with his ten year old son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), he doesn’t really connect with him. He seems to do the weekly visits more out of obligation rather than wanting to spend quality time with his son. He has an on again/off again affair with the woman that manages the restaurant, Molly (Scarlett Johansson). Carl is resting on the laurels of his past, when he was younger and the toast of the food world, heralded by food critics as the next great chef.
Carl’s world starts collapsing when he creates a brand new menu for an appearance by nationally known food critic (Oliver Platt). Riva won’t let Carl implement the new menu, forcing Carl to serve to the critic the same menu that has been at the restaurant for years. When the critic publishes a scathing review of the meal, Carl has a meltdown and ends up quitting the restaurant. When his ex-wife suggests that he come along on a trip to Miami to care for their son, he agrees. While there, Carl discovers a food truck, which he buys, determined to rekindle his passion for cooking in a new way. Carl, with the help of his son and his right hand man, Martin (John Leguizamo), restore the truck and decide to go on a road trip across the country to take the truck back to L.A..
“Chef” is a road trip movie about rediscovering your passions. In Carl’s case, not only does he revive his passion for food and cooking, but also his passion for his son. Jon Favreau, who wrote and directed the movie, does a terrific job of creating a film that while going down a path that you see coming, you don’t mind going along with him on the ride.
Favreau is very comfortable in the kitchen and shows off some real culinary skills. This is a foodie’s fantasy as almost at every turn Carl is creating something in the kitchen. Carl uses the creation of food dishes to blow off steam or express himself. There are some amazing shots of not just the kind of food you find in a fancy restaurant, but also simple dishes, like a Cuban sandwich or a grilled cheese (I guarantee that you will want a grilled cheese after seeing this film). And you get to see how a kitchen and a food truck run, with great insight into the incredible amount of cooperation that goes on to prepare and serve us food.
Favreau gives a terrific performance as the chef who must find his way back. Favreau has created a character that even though he is flawed is likable. Carl is the type of guy you would like to hang out with and discuss food over a beer. The rest of the cast is marvelous, including an incredibly restrained performance by Sofia Vergara (yes, that Sofia Vergara). It’s refreshing to know that Vergara has the range to play down her character and her chemistry with Favreau works extremely well. I also liked that Favreau created the husband and wife characters that though divorced, generally care about each other and their son. It’s a novel approach that you rarely see in movies today, characters that actually communicate to each other.
There is also great interaction between Favreau and Leguizamo, who plays Carl’s best friend and his main support in the kitchen. They have a nice rapport and some of the better comedic moments are in their interactions. Emjay Anthony is well cast as the son who just wants to spend time with his father, no matter what they do. There are a few really nice moments of father and son bonding and Anthony holds up his end of their scenes together. A number of hilarious cameos pop up throughout the film. I don’t want to give any away, but they certainly help give spice to the film.
“Chef” is a quite pleasing comedy road film, a great get away from the raunchy comedies of late. It’s a movie about reconnecting with the people you love and finding your passion for life. It’s a simple film you will want to savor and enjoy, much like the dishes that Carl creates on the screen. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
“Chef” is playing in theatres nationwide. Follow @Lastonetoleave