The opening minutes of Jon Favreau’s Chef demonstrate why it might be the best food film since Ratatouille. Carl Casper (Favreau), a respected executive chef in LA, maneuvers into the kitchen. We watch Carl butcher a whole pig, slice a zucchini at lightning speed, and sauce carne asada. And it’s mesmerizing. Mesmerizing because the scarred, tattooed fingers that we see doing the mise en place are, in fact, really Jon Favreau’s—to prepare for Chef, he studied culinary arts in real-world superstar chef Roy Choi’s restaurants in LA.
So begins a lush tribute not only to food, but also to the profession of cooking itself. Favreau’s attention to detail caresses and coaxes commonplace foodie-ism into a loud tribute to the world of cuisine. Of course, there is your fair share of food porn: garlicky pasta, oozing grilled cheeses, and crusty barbecue sliced open with insides so perfectly pink that I blush and have to turn away. But Favreau’s depiction of Carl’s occupation opts for realism over glorification. The cult of the chef is debunked; Carl struggles with a conservative restaurateur (Dustin Hoffman) and faces difficulties maintaining a family with his awfully photogenic wife (Sofia Vergara). Yet passion carries him through these trials, propelling Carl on to a cross- country food truck tour with his sous-chef (John Leguizamo) and his son (Emjay Anthony).
Even though this cinematic road trip ends predictably with negligible character development, the film’s weaknesses don’t detract from enjoying Chef for what it is. Chef succeeds as a feel- good film that’s infectiously good-natured. There’s a sense that this is a very personal film for Favreau, and indeed, at times it screens like a vanity project. Ultimately, the audience will surely leave with smiles and, inevitably, pangs of hunger.