Long before the movie “Chef” hit silver screens across the nation I had decided I must see it, all because of an interview with writer/director/producer/lead actor Jon Favreau.
In the April 2014 issue of “Food & Wine” magazine, Favreau discussed his apprenticeship with Roy Choi, who owns one of L.A.’s most renowned food trucks, Kogi.
The first time I saw the movie, I was blown away by food prep photographs that appear early on and depict the passionate dedication to culinary craft of Favreau’s character, Chef Carl Casper.
Through one after another delectable “food porn” shots, each knife stroke is razor sharp, lightning fast and impeccably uniform, while Casper and his kitchen co-workers banter with lighthearted familiarity and profanity.
But the restaurant owner’s insistence that the menu remain the same — even when the city’s most famous critic has scheduled a visit — brings Casper to the breaking point. He walks out of the restaurant with no idea what to do next. His buddy and restaurant hostess encourages him to follow his heart as he departs.
At the same time, Casper’s personal life is a mess. His young son, Percy, has missed him terribly since his parents’ divorce and Casper finds it very tough to accept help from his ex, Inez. Twitter is another important character in this movie, facilitating Casper’s undoing as a professional chef while enhancing his relationship with Percy.
Casper chooses a new path when he finally agrees to refurbish a dilapidated food truck in Miami. It’s the city where Casper and Inez met and fell in love. It’s also the city where the restaurant world initially noticed his culinary gifts.
The family’s visit to Miami is a game changer. Casper’s best buddy from the restaurant arrives to help him create his new business and Percy’s summer school recess provides the perfect opportunity for father and son to bond while working on the truck and traveling. Percy’s immense skill with social media becomes a major driver in the truck’s exposure and popularity.
I’ve seen “Chef” four additional times and still love it as much as I did the first time. This is very much a story about following your passion to professional bliss. But what struck me most was how the importance of loving relationships among family and friends was woven throughout.
Kitchen staff members appreciatively roll their eyes over a wildly inventive menu that Casper creates after a particularly frustrating evening at the restaurant. Percy declares that figuring out Twitter together is better than “doing stuff” with his dad, such as riding roller coasters; while Inez walks a fine line between helping Casper professionally and wanting him to be more aware of his son’s needs. And a curmudgeonly food critic surprises everyone near the end of this delightful fast-paced story.
Even the soundtrack echoes the flavor and passion emanating from Casper’s food truck, as he finds his heart space once more, both in his personal life and his food. There’s no doubt I want this movie to become part of our permanent collection.
Lisa Waterman Gray is a freelance writer based in Overland Park. She specializes in food and travel writing.