‘Chef’ sizzles with delicious passion

‘Chef’ sizzles with delicious passion

By Karsten Burgstahler

It’d be easy to say Jon Favreau’s new film looks great because of the gratuitous images of delicious-looking food.

Favreau certainly could have relied on the food in “Chef” (Rated R; 114 Min.) to propel him forward without a solid story. Some critics have actually referred to the film as “food porn.” But it’s so much more than that, shown through the passion that Favreau’s character, Chef Carl Casper, puts into his cooking shows, along with Favreau the filmmaker’s directing style. Not just for the food, but also for his players.

Like many of Casper’s creations, “Chef” contains a smattering of familiar elements jazzed up with good dialogue and actors with great chemistry delivering it. Casper is ex-husband to Inez (Sofia Vergara, never better) and absent father to Percy (Emjay Anthony).


The early scenes in Casper’s restaurant are just the appetizer to the film’s main course: After Casper gets into it with a food critic (who calls him out for being set in his ways) and the video ends up on YouTube, he takes some time off with his son and goes to Miami. While there he begins to reinvent himself by purchasing a food truck. We, as the audience, get to accompany him on the next step in the evolution of Chef Carl Casper.

And what an honor it is.

What’s so refreshing about “Chef,” at least in today’s Hollywood, is that none of the actors seem to be going through the motions. The movie could have been a rehash of the road trip 101 movie. That’s because Favreau mixed together actors who mesh well.

Perhaps it’s an exaggeration to suggest Favreau and Anthony are the best pair since peanut butter and jelly. Perhaps not.

We don’t get much screen time with the actors beyond Favreau, Anthony and Casper’s sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo). But the supporting cast functions in their own quirky way. Dustin Hoffman adds a dash of salt as Casper’s boss Riva. Oliver Platt hams up the pretentious food critic Ramsey Michel (also to the credit of Favreau, who gave him some great barbs to trade with Casper). Scarlett Johansson plays Casper’s hostess and potential love interest. And Robert Downey Jr. stops by to help his “Iron Man” director Favreau as a sleazy salesman who’s letting his secretary think he got her pregnant. It’s an eclectic cast of characters. It works.

So sure, it wouldn’t be hard for Favreau to take some shots of the mouth-watering food and call it a day. But he’s not just a director making a movie about food. He’s a foodie with an appreciation that flares up in every scene.

Listening to Favreau describe a beignet will make you buy a train ticket to New Orleans just to hit up Café du Monde. That’s just the sort of passion that’s been missing from the movies so far this year — summer is full of junk food, satisfying at first but ultimately empty. Look at “Chef” as your first step toward a healthy diet.