Recently, for some weird reason, Jon Favreau’s 2014 film Chef was trending on Netflix Malaysia’s Top 10 list and, seeing as how it’s a great movie, I decided that I would watch it again.

Chef comes off the back of three massive blockbusters. Favreau had just made Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Cowboys & Aliens back to back, and this movie was the very antitheses to those. It is a small film about a chef, and his journey to find what he had lost while working in someone else’s kitchen. That’s it.

Jon Favreau plays Carl Casper, a chef who, after a recent run-in with a food critic, travels to Miami with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) and his 10-year-old son, Percy, to escape Los Angeles and the footage of his public meltdown on the then nascent Twitter. While there, Casper meets up with his ex-wife’s ex-husband, Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) and reluctantly accepts his help which came in the form of an old, beaten up food truck. Casper, his sous-chef Martin (John Leguizamo) and Percy, fix up the truck and drive it back up to LA, stopping along the way in New Orleans and Texas, all while selling the best cubanos ever. (Never have I wanted to eat pork so much as when Favreau and Leguizamo are pulling together that first cubano sandwich.)

Chef is a very simple movie with a very simple premise. But it is what Favreau does with this simple premise that makes him such a master of the art. In the first six minutes of the movie, you find out everything you need to know about Casper. He is a great cook who is passionate about what he does, has an ex-wife, is a slightly absent minded father, and is under some pressure to perform after having had, in his mind at least, a listless couple of years working in an uninspiring kitchen. The story then builds out from there, as he is badly reviewed by a food critic, goes toe to toe with the owner of the restaurant he works in, and finally, 40 minutes into the movie, has that very public meltdown, the phone footage of which travels across Twittersphere. 

The second half of the movie then takes the form of a road trip. Casper takes his son to the legendary Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, they stop over at Frankiln’s Barbecue in Austin, Texas. It is a journey of family, friendship, and self discovery, as a father, son, and best friend, spend time together doing the thing they love most. It is joyous.

Sidenote: I dare you to not want to move to this soundtrack. Chef has got one of the best movie soundtracks in recent memory. One that is so deeply ingrained into the fibres of the story that it feels almost impossible for the film to exist without this music.

This movie is also very much a love letter to cooking. Every scene involving a kitchen, be it at the restaurant, or in Casper’s apartment, or in the food truck, is beautifully shot. With such respect to the craft of cooking. It is poetry in motion. A dance of food and fire.

It also helps when you have Chef Roy Choi as your supervising producer. He gave Favreau a crash course on cheffing so as to make Casper come off looking as authentic as possible.

At the end of the movie, halfway through the credits, there’s a behind the scenes clip of Chef Choi teaching Favreau how to cook a grilled cheese sandwich like a chef. He talks about it the way an artist would about a painting. He talks about altering the grip on his spatula, to check on the sandwich, the way a surgeon would a scalpel before making a cut.

All of that training clearly paid off. In the opening sequence, there’s a moment when Favreau takes his eyes off the cutting board as he is cutting up a zucchini, and you can tell that he’s been paying attention. 

Wikipedia lists Chef as a comedy drama, but I think that’s inaccurate. The comedy isn’t laugh out loud, and neither is the drama heavy. Chef is like a great rojak buah, sweet, and a little spicy, but not enough to make you teary eyed. And also, like a great rojak buah, Chef is the perfect movie for your Sunday afternoon. As the day gets cooler, and you’ve got some time to kill before dinner, why not kick off your evening the right way.

As I came to the end of my umpteenth rewatch of this movie, I thought about how much I want a sequel. “But Bahir, this movie is so perfect!” I hear you scream. And you’re right. This movie is perfect as it is, but just like the aforementioned great rojak buah, sometimes one serving isn’t enough. So here, Mr. Favreau, for your consideration, is my pitch for Chef 2.

We start the movie 8 years after the first, and Percy, now a young man of 18, is heading off to college. Chef Casper’s new restaurant is booming, he is creatively (while not necessarily financially) in a much better place. All seems well in the Casper universe. Before Percy heads off, he comes up with a plan. Why not take the old food truck out for one more spin? Why not make his trip to university a road trip like they did all those years ago? Carl Casper, feeling a little bored with his success, wants to challenge himself and thinks, “yeah, why not?” Why not have one more adventure with his son? So he, Percy, and Marvin (John Leguizamo) set out on yet another new culinary road trip.

Just before they leave, however, Casper’s wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara) announces that she’s pregnant. This throws him for a loop and he spends the trip being worried about this. Casper starts to have a crisis of confidence about being a father again and, over the course of the trip, Percy convinces Casper that he hasn’t failed as a father. They get to the university, by way of new places and new foods, and Casper, finding confidence to face the challenges of being a father once again. As they drop Percy off, Casper hands the keys of the food truck to Marvin, signifying once and for all that this part of his life is over.

For more of Jon Favreau and chef Roy Choi, check out our review of The Chef Show, exclusively on Netflix.

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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