Writer/Director/Actor Jon Favreau certainly has a knack for creating whimsically hilarious movies. He does a better job at films like Swingers and Iron Man than he is with Cowboys & Aliens. But perhaps, that’s because some titles are more ready-made for mass appeal than others. His latest film, Chef, cooks up a delightful tale about Carl Casper (Favreau), a renowned Los Angeles chef who prefers to create gastronomic delights over following the rules.
When he is often challenging restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) about what to offer in every night’s top menu selection, he is eventually going to lose his job. When he blows up in front of top food critic Ramsey Michel (nicely played by Oliver Platt), he’s going to need a new line of work.
Thanks to television programs like Eat St. to show foodies where to find fantastic food, the revolution is with chefs who prefer to work their own magic through the window of a food truck. Some do not have the finances to run a proper bistro, so that’s why being portable helps. This film is making its rounds to festivals and theatres around the world to show that touring is a better option.
And that’s what this film builds on as Casper decides to take up serving new Cuban cuisine as he makes his way home. He’s reinventing the Cubano, a sandwich that, along with everything else Carl cooks up, looks mouth-wateringly good. It all begins with knowing how to select the right meats, grill the bun and find fresh vegetables. In this film, necessity is the mother of invention.
Viewers will no doubt salivate at the delectable delights that grace the screen. Foodies can find a lesson in how to build the perfect cheese sandwich and heat it up too, or in how to perfectly toast up a Medianoche — a Cuban delight that’s built upon roast pork, ham, mustard, swiss cheese and dill pickles. Word to the wise: olive oil makes a huge difference! But can you imagine that oil infused with other flavours? A trip to Olive the Senses located by the Victoria Public Market is required!
At the same time, Casper also learns how to reconnect with a family he’s neglected over the years. Through no fault of his own, he’s separated from his very attractive wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara), a well-to-do socialite, and he has no time for his son, Percy (EmJay Anthony), a social-media savvy 10-year old who constantly asks to go to the market with him. Carl’s resistance only reveals the conflict that he is only creating for himself.
Although he is technically asked to travel to Miami to watch over Percy while Inez works, just what they do together shows that they can mend fences. That’s where this film’s heartwarming moments come. As pops takes up starting a food truck business, he finds that he also needs help. The cameo from Robert Downey Jr. is fun, but it does not add anything to the tale. Instead, the importance of Percy’s surrogate “Uncle Martin” (John Leguizamo) is required if he’s going to succeed. This movie is about partnerships that can be found at home and at work; Martin’s loyalty to Casper is important to note in Favreau’s well thought out screenplay. He left his job to join Carl because innovation is what motivates both of these chefs to cook.
In what the three become may seem like a story akin to Blues Brothers 2000 — what they do together as a team is a musical odyssey as they travel from Miami to Los Angeles. When they make stops in New Orleans and Texas, that’s when the tunes amps up the narrative. Anyone who enjoys Soul, Salsa and Jazz-inspired sounds will find the selection terrific.
This film effectively uses its tropes very well, especially when the Delta Blues-style number “When My Train Pulls In” by Gary Clark Jr. is playing in the background. Casper has reached the crossroads, and the next choices he makes have to be careful ones. This movie also nicely represents the best of what a father-son and road trip movie should accomplish for its narrative. For the main protagonist, his life is incomplete without his family behind him. Inez knows it, and so does Molly (Scarlett Johansson), in a less than understated role. The only problem is that Carl does not realize it. For some viewers, this movie is arriving just in time for Father’s Day.
4 Blokes out of 5