There have been countless movies pushing the message of “do what you love, and love what you do.” Rarely do these pictures glow with as much exuberance and passion as Jon Favreau’s Chef, a labor of love on all levels full of comedic wit, charm, and Cuban sandwiches. Favreau plays Carl Casper, the head chef of Gauloise, a ritzy restaurant in California. He’s a brilliant, passionate chef, concocting creative new dishes that his crew all enjoy, but dishes that his boss (Dustin Hoffman) deems too risky, ordering him to “stick to the menu.” Casper fights for creative control and loses, one of the film’s many thinly veiled metaphors for Favreau’s own career in the film industry.
Carl eventually goes back to basics. His successful ex-wife (the gorgeous Sofia Vergara) uses her resources to get him a food truck and Carl finds his passion for food reignited, partnering with long-time friend Martin (John Leguizamo). Carl’s 10-year-old son Percy is eager to come along for the ride too and the film’s father-son development feels surprisingly organic. It’s a relationship that has proven to be difficult to write. Many films have fallen flat in this aspect and Favreau hits the right notes, letting the characters of Carl (the old school) and Percy (the new school) riff off one another, creating a charming dynamic that feels real.
Favreau’s friends Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson join in on the fun, further highlighting the film’s “passion project” status. It isn’t ground breaking or innovative and it is very simple, perhaps too simple for some, but Favreau’s knack for character comedy and love shine through every frame. He fits in a few directorial flourishes (the film is a visual feast, in more ways than one) but stays primarily reserved, focusing on punching every last ounce of love into the picture. Accompanied by an extremely groovy mix of hip-hop beats and hispanic jams, Carl’s food truck journey is exuberant and heartwarming. Chef is emblematic of Carl’s mouth-watering Cubanos: simple, full of passion, and delicious.