Review by-Jarrett Leahy
After an influential food critic’s rather unsavory review leads to a YouTube sensationalized meltdown, esteemed head chef Carl Casper finds himself unemployed. With few job prospects on the horizon, Casper, intrigued by the opportunity for creative freedom, begins a personal odyssey by launching his own Latin inspired food truck. Chef is the creative brainchild of Jon Favreau who wrote, directed, produced, and stars as the film’s gifted culinary protagonist. Ever since his breakout performance in the 1996 cult comedy Swingers (a film he also wrote) Favreau has slowly built himself quite the acting and directing resume, highlighted by his creative involvement with the uber-successful Iron Man series. Like Swingers, Chef is another independent passion project that allows Favreau to accentuate his unique acting skills.
With an amusing examination of the unintended consequences and burgeoning marketing possibilities of social media, Chef has an unexpected relevancy to the pertinent topic of the ever-expanding invasion technology continues to have on our daily lives. Like a 21st-century version of the comment bubble, we get an entertaining peek at the comedically inappropriate exchange during a blossoming twitter war that only fuels Casper’s eventual eruptive meltdown.
Taking advantage of his powerful Hollywood connections, Favreau the filmmaker persuaded some of the biggest superstars in the industry to offer their immense talents to smaller, supporting characters. It was actually quite refreshing to see the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., and Dustin Hoffman bring their own unique bravado to less heralded roles than you would normally see them in. Surprisingly though, it is the loquacious veteran actor John Leguizamo, playing Carl’s humorous sous-chef Martin, that provides the film’s most gifted supporting performance. Best recognized for his sharp, biting tongue, Legquizamo, in one of the finest performances of his already underrated career, offers a surprisingly toned down portrayal that never overshadows Favreau but exhibits just the right amount of humorous verbosity to perfectly complement the performance of the film’s unlikely hero.
One of the obvious star attractions of a film highlighting the culinary arts is the profusion of decadent and savory foods. Seared steaks, glazed and sauteed calamari, an abundant assortment of creamy, drizzled sauces, even a simple grilled cheese is transformed into mouth-watering gourmet fare. It was reported that Favreau trained with famed food truck chef Roy Choi in order to perform all his own cooking in the film. This undeniable commitment to the role is visible throughout as his command of the kitchen jargon along with his expert chopping and cooking techniques had me convinced he was a true culinary authority. Jon Favreau’s sincere and exuberant adoration for this project and its subject matter oozes out of every scene. And it is that infectious passion that resonates so well with audiences, making Chef a charismatic crowd pleaser.-JL