Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Jon Favreau, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr
Creative workaholic chef Carl Casper (writer-director Jon Favreau) is stuck in a rut cooking staid dishes for stuffy fine-dining restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman). Having lost his wife to a high-flying career and a playboy tycoon, the only sparks in his life come from the sensuous dishes he cooks for the restaurant’s sultry maitre d’ – girlfriend Molly (Scarlett Johansson). That is, until popular food critic Ramsey posts a stinking online review in which he links Carl’s waistline to “eating all the food sent back to the kitchen”.
Carl, new to social media, gets a crash course in Twitter from pre-teen son Percy and whistles an insult back, unaware that there’s no such thing as a private tweet. Predictably, he receives an equally blunt response from Ramsey that’s read by many of his 200,000 Twitter followers. Shaken out of his lethargy, chef challenges critic to check out his “whole new menu just for you, asshole” – without first clearing it with his boss.
News of the gourmet gauntlet spreads like charcoal pit ambers. The restaurant is booked out for the night but Riva will not have the menu changed at the last minute. He gives Carl a choice of cooking the staid stuff or sizzling on his own time.
Unwilling to return to his rut, Carl takes to the highway in his gumboots – literally. Ex-wife Inez puts him in touch with tycoon ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey, Jr), who gives him a rundown taco truck. From here, the theme of food as metaphor for love blends into kitchen as metaphor for life. Percy, on school break, helps dad get his gourmet-on-wheels show on the road. The gizmo kid Tweets, Vines and Vimeos his adventure using Carl’s online persona. Social media space is abuzz with news of the sacked chef’s new venture, drawing flash mob queues to the food truck.
The movie is more fast food with flair than fine dining. It glosses over the trauma of splintered families and career crises. Young Artist Awards actor EmJay Anthony delivers a credible performance as Percy, with hints of the pain of losing a father to his job. There’s heart-warming mateship – Molly reminding Carl that he has a son, and ex-kitchen mate Martin (John Leguizamo) joining him on the road trip.
Chef is a slick and sentimental crowd-pleaser, cheery Cuban-flavoured chicken soup for the soul. It has a positive theme about father-son bonding with a liberal dash of tech hype, double-entendre and coarse dialogue. The storyline will strike a chord with a generation of drifter kids whose parents are more anxious about their careers than their children and more casual in their commitment to each other than to their jobs.
Tim Lee is Comments editor of MercatorNet.