As the writer, director and star of the new film Chef, Jon Favreau bunkered down with one of the pioneers of the food truck movement, LA-based Roy Choi of Kogi, to learn the basics of how the industry operates. Choi not only provides guidance as a consultant and producer of the film but his life story provides much of the impetus for Favreau’s charming screenplay.
Here Favreau plays Carl Casper, an avant-garde chef whose cooking was once the talk of the town amongst Miami’s well-heeled. A series of career setbacks following the breakup of his marriage to Inez (Sofia Vergara) finds Casper a decade later manning the pans of a run-of-the-mill bistro that churns out mediocre, forgettable food to grateful patrons under the direction of restaurant owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman). When Casper receives a scathing review from one local restaurant critic, the ensuing media fallout assures his bistro days come to an end in a haze of embarrassment and regret.
Conversely, it’s Casper’s public humiliation on social media that drives him out of this rut soon after. Seemingly unemployable after a video of the altercation with said critic goes viral, the chef joins Inez and their son Percy in Miami hoping to rekindle his passion, soon deciding to end his pandering to the fine dining crowd by opening a food truck serving the simple, honest food that he loves to eat. With restaurant co-worker Martin (John Leguizamo) on board with the new venture and armed with Percy’s proficiency in utilising social media for marketing purposes, it’s not long before Casper has customers lined up along the footpath.
Whilst the final destination may be predictable, the journey traipsing through New Orleans, Austin and Miami is compelling and the engaging chemistry between Favreau and Leguizamo compliments an extremely funny cameo by Inez’s other ex-husband, played by Robert Downey, Jr.,who bankrolls the new business.
Favreau hasn’t reinvented the wheel with this film; Swingers was certainly a much sharper production. What Chef does do, however, is illustrate that a series of great ingredients built around a labour of love can outshine many big-budget features.
Chef opens in cinemas Thursday May 8.