Witty, smart and often self deprecating but sweet enough to make you feel all warm and fuzzy, would be my one line description of Chef.
Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is the Head Chef at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant, owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman). Having started off as a bright young spark years ago, Casper now dishes out tasty but predictable food to people who throng the eatery. His life is spent between working in the restaurant kitchen, spending a bit of we-agreed-not-to-do-this time with Molly (Scarlett Johansson), the delectable restaurant hostess and not enough time with Percy (Emjay Anthony) his 10 year old son. Percy lives with his mother Inez (Sofia Vergara) in a palatial villa; craves his father’s company and does not understand why his parents are divorced.
Some of the old Casper spark is seen the day he starts creating some fabulous out-of-the-box dishes to impress the eminent food critic Ramsay Michel (Oliver Platt), aided by his supportive team of Martin (John Leguizamo) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale). Michel had once declared Casper to be a star and no stone is left unturned for that to happen again….till the time Riva enters the kitchen and demands there be no change in the regular menu. His logic, as the restaurant owner could not be argued with and Chef Carl Casper has bow down and serve the usual meal starting with caviar topped egg, going into scallops and ending with a chocolate lava cake. Chef Casper is confident about the food he serves and has a smile on his face as he starts reading out what he knows will be a glowing review. Unfortunately, Michel’s review is anything but. The meal according to Michel is trite, unimaginative and ‘needy’. What makes matters worse is that Michel, like all modern professionals, puts up his review on social media. Within minutes the review goes viral on Twitter, being read and discussed by Michel’s hundred thousand plus followers and their friends.
This incident marks Chef Casper’s unwilling entry into the world of social media. Being singularly technology challenged, he puts up what he thinks is a private message to Michel, not realizing that he cannot send a private message on Twitter to someone who does not follow him. By the time Percy explains this, Chef’s (very insulting) message has gone viral too! The so called private feud turns into a social media circus, ending in a very dirty war of words in the restaurant and finally resulting in Chef Casper walking out of his comfortable job.
What follows is a journey Casper takes, physically, mentally and emotionally. He gets off his high horse of being a Chef is a lauded restaurant and actually gets his hands dirty starting off a food truck business from scratch, with a little bit of help from Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.), his ex-wife’s ex-husband! The trip to Miami with Inez and Percy, the drive back through various cities selling Cubanos (Cuban sandwiches), spending quality time with his son for the very first time and discovering facets that he did not know existed, all add up to making the finale a happy one.
Chef is an easy to watch, feel good film. Please ensure you eat well before the show because the constant making of glorious food is going make your stomach rumble; I could barely wait for the interval! Sofia Vergara is good but her fabulous comic timing is surprisingly under utilized in the film. For me, the star of this film is Emjay Anthony. He steals your heart from the first frame and does not let go till the end. His expressive little face and lovely eyes emote even when he is quiet. Jon Favreau (who also directs the film) is well suited to the role as a big, bluff chef who has lost his way a tad. Casper’s passion for food comes out clearly in every frame. The father-son relationship is explored beautifully, so so real that one would be excused for thinking these two are actually related. The rest of the stellar cast has small but important roles. Worthy of mentioning is an almost blink and miss cameo by Russell Peters.
Watch this film if you love food, family and fun. It is playful while retaining its underlying message and is guaranteed to leave you smiling….and of course hungry! By the way, it is an A rated film, so you will need to leave your budding chefs at home.