Every so often a movie comes along that gives a perfectly good archetype a complete overhaul. Chef, directed and written by actor Jon Favreau, who also stars, is one of those gems.
At the beginning of the movie, while walking through an upscale California farmer’s market, culinary whiz Carl Casper (Favreau) reminds his 10-year-old son Percy (Emjay Anthony) that he’s a chef. A profession and archetype known for satisfying people’s culinary cravings, “chef” – and all the accessory reverence that goes along with Carl’s celebrity status in a posh Los Angeles bistro – has, unfortunately, taken precedence over archetypal “dad.” Carl, who’s divorced from and on good terms with Inez (Sofia Vergara), a successful business owner, has become lax in emotionally caring for and spending quality time with their son.
Some shaking up is in order, and the propulsive incident is delivered through restaurant critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), who had championed Carl’s culinary genius a decade earlier. Carl is eager to inventively wow the critic again – the restaurant knows the day of Ramsey’s visit – but he’s cut down by the eatery’s owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman), who insists they serve the critic the crowd-pleasing menu – the “old hits” – that’s been keeping the restaurant’s patrons happy for years.
Carl reluctantly goes along with the plan, and the restaurant receives a scathing review which goes viral and heated. An opportunity for a do-over – Carl wants a second chance to impress Ramsey with more cutting-edge fare – backfires and, sticking to his guns, Carl quits. But the kitchen staff, which includes Martin (John Leguizamo) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale), are obligated to serve the old fare anyway, which implicates Carl a second time.
More Twitter mayhem effectively turns Carl into a culinary outcast. With nothing left to lose, he erupts, just like molten lava cake, using the Uranian principle of upheaval, innovation and liberation from the old ways – in this case, an adherence to a staid menu with built-in Saturnian rules and obligations to an external master – to once again get intimately in touch with his food mojo, which is part of the Lunar principle of feeding and nurturing.
Carl’s literal vehicle for his personal and professional reinvention is a food truck, supplied by Inez’s Miami-based, ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.). With Emjay – who happens to be a digital genius – and Martin in tow, the trio do a cross-country on board their newly branded El Jafe four-wheeler, with some tasty roots and Latin soundtrack music matching the sizzling food rhythms. In a just world, the crackle of those Cuban sandwiches being sliced open will get its own sound fx award.
Will Carl reignite his passion for food and reclaim his professional reputation? Will he successfully bond with his son? Will he resolve differences with Ramsey and realize what he had with Inez may be once again within reach? Let me show you to your table.
Before Carl quit, Riva had harshly warned him, “Be an artist on your own time.” Chef makes a good case for passion as the arbiter of success, no matter what the profession. Meet Carl Casper: Food Liberator, Rebel, Innovator.
Astrology Film Rating: ☽♅ (Moon, Uranus)