Chef: A Food Film With Credibility

Chef had its premiere at the SXSW festival, and early word is that it gets it right.
The film, about a chef who resets his career by opening a food truck, comes with foodie bonafides. Jon Favreau, who portrays the eponymous chef, learned his kitchen chops from L.A. chef Roy Choi, the Los Angeles restaurateur who is credited with reinventing street food. Choi’s resumé includes leaving behind his own fine dining kitchen to pioneer the current food truck craze.

Chefs are rarely satisfied with movies about chefs.
They complain that there’s too much cinematic eye candy, the details are bogus, and there’s never enough of the unique culture of the professional kitchen with its comradery and competition, ego and submission, artistry and forearm burns. Chef’s often cite Disney’s Ratatouille as the movie that comes the closest to capturing the industry’s sacrifice, striving, and ethos—and it’s an animated rat in the kitchen!

Filmmakers will never stop trying.
Among the vicarious pleasures that sell movie tickets, food is up there at the top of the list along with sex and violence. All three are fetishized, idealized, larger-than-life screen themes, but food is the one that we can most closely approximate in our real lives. Favreau, who also directed Chef, has even said ‘I shoot food the way Michael Bay shoots women in bikinis.’

Food can also cut right to the heart of a character.
We see the commitment and sacrifice when we watch Rocky Balboa gulp down raw eggs, and we immediately understand that ice water flows through the characters’ veins in Goodfella’s when they horrifically brutalize Billy Batts and then swing by Mama’s house for a late night supper. Could anything take the place of the exposition provided by the bag lunches of the Breakfast Club? The privileged girl’s bento box, the soup thermos and crustless sandwich of the nerd, the Pixy Stix and Cap’n Crunch sandwich of the oddball—it’s like cinematic shorthand. A quick peek tells us everything we need to know.

Plotlines and characters are forgotten while food scenes linger in the imagination.
They captivate, seduce, and make us drool. Think of the iconic scene in Big Night: the two chef-brothers, desperate to save their struggling restaurant, are banking everything on the success of one special meal. They’ve cooked their hearts out creating an elaborate layered pasta dish baked inside a domed pastry crust. You’re holding your breath as the siblings carefully lift the dish to reveal the timpano, and at that moment there’s an audible exhale from the audience; a sigh of relief, a moan of pleasure.
If we’re lucky, Chef will give us one of those moments.

 

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