“Chef” is a love story, a love story about food, about work, and about friendship and family. It’s too bad the rough language and sporadic drug use make it unsuitable for children, because a ten-year old boy and his longing for a dad who isn’t “fun,” but present, is at the heart of the movie. But, you can watch “Chef” with older kids if you are prepared to discuss scenes you find uncomfortable or inappropriate.
He soon learns to delight in teaching his son how to work.
Jon Favreau plays Chef Carl Casper, who spends his days in the kitchen of an upscale L.A. restaurant. We meet him on the day the place is preparing to host an influential food critic, a man whose good, or bad, reviews can change a chef’s career. Casper is gathering ingredients for an exciting menu. We watch him begin to butcher a whole pig and we watch him walk through an open air market, smelling and handling the vegetables he selects for freshness and taste. It’s also his day to be with his son, Percy (played by Emjay Anthony) and while the divorced Casper may be engaged by the food, he’s mildly annoyed by his son. He’s busy, he tells his son. He’s working. And, no, the boy can’t join him as he works because their time together is for play, for fun. He makes some vague promises about taking the boy to New Orleans, and, in the way of children, Percy believes him and begins to make plans for his upcoming school holiday.
But the restaurant owner (played by Dustin Hoffman), demands that he and his staff prepare their traditional menu, thus spoiling Casper’s strategy for a triumphant meal. The critic comes, tastes and hates. He posts a scathing review, which sends Casper into a tailspin. He embarrasses himself on Twitter, quits his job and then invades the restaurant on another night when the critic is there. Sticking his fingers into the molten lava cake the critic scorned, and screaming, “It’s molten!” Casper’s breakdown soon goes viral. He can’t get hired as anything other than a freak on a reality cooking show.
Enter Gasper’s ex-wife, a Cuban-born actress (played by Sofia Vergara) who wants to help him be a better father and a happier man. She thinks the answer is a food truck, an answer Casper first dismisses, and, finally, embraces. And here we get to the gooey, delicious heart of this molten lava cake of a movie. Percy, who is on a break from school, has to accompany his father as he gets the truck ready to roll because his mother is working. Casper isn’t happy about the arrangement, but he soon learns to delight in teaching his son how to work. Percy is just happy to be with his father in a way that makes him feel like more than a pampered pet that needs to be walked and then stuck back in the kennel.
When the time arrives to drive the truck from Miami, where Casper picked it up, to L.A., Percy manages to come along. The father and son are joined by Casper’s old assistant, Martin (played by John Leguizamo) a cook who is to marinating a pork shoulder what Fred Astaire was to dancing with a hat rack. Percy watches these men and learns and joins in as a line cook, a true part of the team, with the burns and cuts to prove it. It’s delightful to watch the friendship and respect the shared work engenders, and it’s touching to watch the father and son come to know and respect one another.
Don’t expect any surprises as the movie, and the truck, reach their satisfying destination. But, if the destination is good one, there is nothing disappointing about arriving there.
– Melissa Musick