The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Movie Review: Jon Favreau's “Chef”

A Deliciously Warm and Funny Look At Life On The Line

If you cook professionally, if you have ever cooked professionally, or if you ever plan to cook professionally, you need to see “Chef.” If you cook at home, you need to see “Chef.” If you can't boil water but just like to eat food, you need to see “Chef.” If you have kids, you need to see “Chef.” Let me just sum it up more succinctly: If you're breathing, you need to see “Chef.”

Producer/Director/Writer/Actor Jon Favreau's latest indie opus is one of the best movies I've seen this year. Or, in fact, in many years. Billed as a comedy, this film is that and so much more. Yeah, it's a moving about cooking. But it also pulls back the curtain on the culinary industry and the lives of the people involved therein. It's about passion and dreams and friends and family. “Chef” packs a lot of life into 114 minutes.

“Chef” was released on the coasts on May 9 and went into wider circulation a couple of weeks later. I say “wider,” but not necessarily “wide.” I had been jonesing to see “Chef” ever since I first read about the project in the development stages. But, man, did I have to hunt it down. I checked with the 10-plex in my small hometown. No dice. “Sorry, we probably won't be getting that one.” Okay, so I started looking around. Numerous Internet searches later, I finally found a showing at a theater 65 miles away. I went. It was well worth the drive.

Jon Favreau is Chef Carl Casper, a man who is passionate about his food. But he finds himself shackled by a short-sighted restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) who just wants him to cook the same food he's been serving for the past ten years. When a well-known critic (Oliver Platt) takes Chef Casper to task for his dated, passionless food, the chef not only loses his cool, he loses his job, too. But, with the help of family and friends, he acquires a food truck in Miami and sets out on a cross-country trip back to Los Angeles. Along the way, he reignites his passion for food and rekindles his relationship with those closest to him, especially his young son, Percy, expertly played by 11-year-old Emjay Anthony and his ex-wife Inez, portrayed by the beautiful Sofia Vergara.

Among the friends who prop Carl up and propel him on his voyage of discovery – with stops in New Orleans and Austin – are John Leguizamo as Martin, the sous-chef who quits his own job to help Carl find his way. Robert Downey, Jr. is Marvin, the guy who gets Carl started in the right direction. The fast and witty by-play between Tony and Happy – er, I mean, between Marvin and Carl is strongly reminiscent of some of the great scenes from “Iron Man.” Scarlett Johansson as Molly rounds out the all-star cast.

Favreau looks so much like a chef, it's hard to believe he's only playing one on the big screen. He's got the attitude, he's got the scars, he's got the lingo, and he's got the moves. The fact that real-life super chef Roy Choi, himself one of the founders of the food truck movement, served as a consultant on the film probably has a lot to do with that. But the master found an apt pupil; Favreau's on-screen knife skills are simply astonishing. And the way he dances the intricate ballet of the kitchen would lead one to believe that he has spent many, many years there, rather than just the few months involved in filming.

Favreau's chef character is one that is all too familiar in the punishing world of the professional kitchen. He's lost his wife and is practically a stranger to his young son as he lives his life in pursuit of his craft, a pursuit that has led him to less-than upscale living conditions and has often hit roadblocks and detours thrown at him by those who do not understand or share his passion. But although Carl Casper may be down, he's not out and he's coming back. And that comeback is filled with a wonderfully well-scripted combination of hilarious scenes, sharp, witty dialogue, and more than a few genuinely heart warming moments. It's a feel-good flick that will have you feeling good all the way home and for a long time after. And it will probably make you really hungry, too.

Written and directed by Jon Favreau and distributed by Open Road Films, “Chef” is rated “R” because it contains some of the rather salty language common to the profession it portrays. But compared to many of the action and dramatic films that get an “R” for language these days, this one is pretty mild. The soundtrack will have you rocking throughout the nearly two hours of screen time.

A few years back, Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart took us on a similar romp through the kitchen with “No Reservations.” Up until now, that was kind of my “go to” foodie movie. I own a DVD copy and I watch it all the time. But now it looks like a double feature might be in order. I can't wait for “Chef” to hit the DVD market. I'll be first in line to buy it so I can enjoy it over and over again. Without the 130 mile round trip.

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