Chef, by Cameron J. Czaja

If you were to ask me what was a great year for film during the 2010s, I would probably say that 2014 is one of them. During the year we got Captain America: The Winter SoldierGuardians of the GalaxyBoyhood, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), and the list goes on.  One film, however, that I deeply enjoyed but I’m sure not a lot people have seen is the Indie flick Chef (2014). From the get-go I was intrigued by this film, not by the subject matter but rather the director himself which is Jon Favreau. You may not be familiar with that name, but I guarantee that you have seen some of his work, which includes Elf (2003), Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010), and Cowboys and Aliens just to name a few. In general, I’m always fascinated whenever a director does something different and with John Favreau doing a small independent film, I was hoping that Chef would be better than his more recent ones. Was that the case here? As usual let’s find out.

In Chef we follow Carl Casper (Jon Favreau), a head chef at a popular Los Angeles restaurant who is great at his job and has the respect of his kitchen and wait staff. He should be satisfied with his position, but lately he has fallen into a creative rut. This is caused by the owner (Dustin Hoffman) insisting Carl stick to what works, which presents conflict in the kitchen. Things get a bit worse for Carl after a food critic (Oliver Platt) gives him a mediocre review. This escalates into a fight on Twitter between Carl and the food critic, which has a domino effect that costs him his job and his reputation as an L.A. chef. Acknowledging that Carl has hit rock bottom, his ex-wife Inez (Sofía Vergara) invites him to Miami so he can get out of town while also watching their son Percy (Emjay Anthony) while she does business there. What Carl doesn’t know is that Inez is setting him up with an associate of hers named Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) for a new opportunity which involves independently operating a food truck. At first Carl has some hesitations about the idea, but once he thinks about it he purchases the truck from Marvin. From there Carl, along with his son and his good friend Martin (John Leguizamo), restore the food truck to working condition and drive back to Los Angeles, along the way selling food in various different cities.

While Chef wasn’t a perfect film for me because I do have some complaints about it, none of those outweigh my deep appreciation that I have for it, such as the level of sincerity put into the film and how it relates to me when I first saw it back in 2014. 

When I first saw Chef in theaters, I knew that it wasn’t going to be a major Oscar contender, but I didn’t mind that because of how down to earth the tone was throughout it. In other words, it was a simple film (and I mean that in the best way possible) that doesn’t try to be pretentious in any way. It’s something that I noticed whenever I watch certain films to come out around Oscar time. The majority of them I’ve enjoyed, but I can always tell when a director will put out a film just for the sake of trying to get an Oscar. Jon Favreau, however, wasn’t aiming for a major award for Chef and without the distraction he was able to make a very grounded film that spoke to critics and mainstream audiences.

The overall theme in Chef is basically rediscovering your passion, and for Carl it was cooking. Getting fired and hitting rock bottom was a silver lining in his life because it allowed him to rediscover himself and his passion. This leads to not only Carl being happy with his craft, but he also becomes closer with his son. Coincidentally this film came out during a perfect time in my life because it was around the time I rediscovered my passion for my Catholic faith. I wouldn’t say that it was bad beforehand, but it felt strained and I wasn’t great example of an active Catholic. Before this film came out, though, I started going to a Bible study group and associated with people of Faith. Not many will get the same faithful message that I did from this movie, but it was a personal feeling that I like to experience every time I watch this film. 

If there were any criticisms I had with Chef it would be the lack of conflict after the plot I described in the second paragraph. Don’t worry, I won’t go into spoiler territory, but I do have to mention how the film switches tone halfway through it. Granted it’s better than the film having a manufactured tone that feels forced, which would’ve really bugged me. It just felt odd how a movie had a character have so much struggle in the beginning and after he gets a new business opportunity everything suddenly goes his way. To those who have seen the film and know what I’m talking about you might think that I’m being nitpicky, but it was something that stood out to me. 

If it sounds like I spoiled bit of Chef for you, I do apologize for that, but honestly watching and reviewing this film is such a delightful treat with a great theme of rediscovering your passion and how using it can better others. I do, however, recommend that before you watch this film that you have a full stomach. I say that because when I first watched it I bypassed lunch because I was in a hurry to make the showtime and the food that Carl made in the movie made my stomach grow in hunger because of how great it looked. Other than that, I definitely recommend this 2014 indie flick and I do hope that John Favreau makes another one like this soon, but after he’s done with The Mandalorian.

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