‘Chef’ gets high marks from Kansas City food truck owners

05/23/2014 3:22 PM

05/27/2014 2:44 PM

If you want to know if a movie accurately captures the subculture of food trucks, the best way to do that is to ask a fleet of food truck owners to park it in a theater seat.

I recently invited six local food truck chefs — Sidney Fish of Beauty of the Bistro, Brett Atkinson of Wilma’s Real Good Food, Michelle Franke of Street Wings/Little Italy, Carmen Cabia of El Tenedor, Brian Jurgens of CoffeeCakeKC and Adrian Bermudez of Indios Carbonsitos (and some of their family members) — to go to a critic’s screening of “Chef.” The new Jon Favreau movie, which opened in KC Friday, is about a high-end restaurant chef who loses his way only to find it again while on a cross-country food-truck trek.

Favreau, a force behind the blockbuster “Iron Man” movies, stars in his own indie film as Carl Casper, a 40ish chef whose creative juices are so stifled by a restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) that he appears destined to rest on his molten lava cake laurels. That is until a Twitter run-in with a critic (Oliver Platt) goes viral and the fallout costs him his job. Casper attempts to pick up the pieces, including a neglected relationship with his son (10-year-old actor Emjay Anthony), and winds up starting over with a rickety food truck dubbed “El Jefe.”

After sitting through the credits to see a bonus scene that includes L.A. food truck innovator Roy Choi (see interview on Page D4), I asked the food truck chefs to rate the movie on a scale of 1 to 4 wheels. The consensus was a 3 1/2, with slight reservations about the ending. Although Adrian, whose own circumstances most closely mirrored the movie, gave it a 4.

“I think any food-trucker or restaurateur would love this movie,” says Adrian, who specializes in Mexi-Q, and whose trusty sous chefs are his sons Adrian Jr., 12, and Akcel, 10. “It really pulls at your heartstrings.”

Did the movie ring true for you?

Carmen Cabia of El Tendor: “It was really, really, really absolutely true. ... I think the movie has a part of each one of us. The passion really came through.”

Brian Jurgens of CoffeeCakeKC: “The dance inside the truck felt very familiar. (Everyone laughs.) Opening the door and just having a line, that didn’t feel real because it was Hollywood. I was telling these two (his wife and daughter, who are part of the business), the only thing that bothered me was that the truck was a means to an end. Food trucks, for us, is our way of life.”

How do you feel about restaurants that also have their own food trucks?

Michelle Franke of Street Wings: “It’s a marketing thing. I think at first they thought we were a threat ... then they kind of embraced it and decided to join us instead of just reject it.”

Anybody have a favorite scene?

Michelle: “At first he (Carl Casper) didn’t want his kid with him. That was probably to say he wanted his child to do better, but then he knew his child wanted to be a part of his life. That’s where I come from: It’s not that I don’t want my (teenage) daughter to be a chef; yes, I do. It’s a hard life, but she has a passion to do it, so you have to let her do what she wants. It’s like these knuckleheads.” (She wraps an arm around 12-year-old Adrian Jr., giving him a bear hug and ruffling his hair. Since they spend a lot of time together for work, local food-truckers are a generally close-knit bunch.)

Do you feel like the chef’s 10-year-old son was you in the movie?

Akcel: “Yes.” He smiles shyly.

Carmen: “I was thinking about you!” (She kisses the top of his head.) “Bonito!”

Brett Atkinson of Wilma’s Real Good Food: “I think what we didn’t see in the movie is all the bad stuff. ...”

Adrian: “Yeah, the breakdowns.” (Brett sighs. Earlier that week he had a major tire blow out.)

Did any of you start out with such a rickety truck?

Michelle: “We started as a bread truck.”

Brett: “I pulled mine (a now gleaming Airstream with cool graphics) from a field down near Paola.”

Adrian: “Ours was full of sand. I had to blow it out. It was just sitting in Arizona when we bought it.”

Sidney Fish of Beauty of the Bistro: “We drove ours from Miami. Long drive!” (Coincidentally, the same starting point for Casper in his cross-country food-truck trek.)

You guys have all taught me a lot about social media over the past few years. But it can be a double-edged sword, yes? You can get the word out there. ...

Adrian: “Or you can get crucified.”

Brett: “Yeah, you can get sucker-punched quick.”

Sidney: “But everything passes so quickly because everyone is on to the next thing. It just blows over.”

Michelle: “We can take off to a different spot in the city. That’s our pleasure. We can be at a dry spot and we can move to a different part of the city, and get a different reaction. That’s why we’ve got wheels!”

To read FYI’s movie review, go to www.KansasCity.com/living.

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