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Chef Review

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Chef Carl Casper’s (Favreau) reputation is destroyed overnight by a supercilious food blogger (Platt) and an unfortunate tweet/viral video fiasco. Going back to basics, with help from his ex-wife (Vergara), son (Anthony) and sous-chef (Leguizamo), he hits the streets with tasty takeaways.

★★★★★

Jon Favreau looks like enjoys a good meal, and seems to know his way around a kitchen, slicing and dicing an array of droolsome edibles in a comedy that hits the spot. Favreau’s first smallish, independent film as writer-director in over a decade, it’s a satisfying slice of food, friendship and family, with inviting scenery, tasty tunes and a scrumptious cast of buddies and colleagues (Robert Downey Jr., Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale) for juicy cameos and savoury bits.

The usual tack in food-centric films is using meal preparation as a metaphor for love. Expressing love isn’t Carl’s (Favreau) forte or interest. He’s a driven professional and his dilemma is the dichotomy between fulfilling himself creatively and running a commercial business. His Los Angeles restaurant’s owner (Hoffman) is a bean-counter who wants the menu unvaried from its safe, proven success, while Carl wants to introduce exciting new dishes. A visit from Platt’s feared food critic proves disastrous and triggers a meltdown in the dining room, naturally captured on someone’s mobile phone. Carl is done for. In real life he’d probably get his own TV show. But his surprisingly amiable ex-wife Inez (Sofía Vergara), eyeing an opportunity for the cookery-obsessed Carl to reconnect with their starved-of-daddy-time little boy Percy (charming 11-year-old Emjay Anthony), lures him to Florida, where her also unusually benevolent previous ex-husband (Downey Jr., a treat as a wealthy, idiosyncratic hedonist) makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Before you can say, “Cubano,” Carl, Percy and John Leguizamo as goofy sidekick Martin pimp a food truck and set off on a road trip in search of customers and Twitter followers.

Miami, New Orleans and Austin, Texas, provide scenic backdrops, with infectious regional music on the side and loving, instructive close-ups of local specialties — beignets, po’boys, beef BBQ to make health police and vegans shudder at the Nutritionally Incorrect grub — while the drive time is filled with the father-son repair job and gleeful male bonding. It’s safe, glib and Carl’s persistent bent for disappointing his child is a bit too much (like the butter slathered on the Cubanos) unnecessary drama. Nevertheless it’s a crowd-pleaser, robustly amusing, sweet and very good-natured.

Eat well beforehand or you’ll be in tummy-rumbling, tongue-hanging-out agony as the merry band cook their way across America. Good fun and happy, filling fare.