I was asked on Twitter what I thought of the latest movie on the chef world, really the first authentic movie on the work of professional cooking since Ratatouille (one of the best on the subject).

So here comes a formidable writer, director, and marquee cast (Scarlett, Dustin, Robert {D. Jr.}, Sofia V., the compelling Bobby Cannavale, and writer/director/lead Jon Favreau) to try to tell a story and also get right what really hasn’t been done well in American film ever, animation excepted: the life of the chef. Spanglish, and No Reservations being two hopefuls that did not get it right.

As a narrative, Chef is predictable (I’d seen the previews, all you need to know), almost tired, father-son road movie, guilty hard-working dad, cute kid, likable (ex) wife—worked for Elf, right?

My writing mentor said, “No one wants to hear a story they haven’t already heard.” And this one we have heard and I’m glad for the creaky scaffolding because it supports a delightful movie and story and characters that get so much of the chef world right, and gleefully so.

So I’ll stick to the stuff of chefs and cooking that was so much fun to watch because the makers really did get so much right, and I am so grateful, most of all, they got the joy of the hard work of cooking and the fundamental goodness of the people who do this work.

Knife skills. I loved the opening scenes of the chef Carl Casper, Jon Favreau, cutting. No slow, careful food porn shots of slicing, nor a Hell’s Kitchen frantic chopping, but rather a credible cook getting through the morning’s mise.

The cook’s personality: everywhere apparent, they got it right. Tony the sous is responsible enough to sleep in his car at the restaurant because he’s gotten so hammered the night before this is the only way he’ll be sure to be at work. You get there, especially if you’re hammered and it’s 5 am. Chef wakes him up in his car as he heads to the farmers’ market to buy produce (a little cliché, as he’s got plenty of time to nosh an andouille sub with his cute son, though it’s the most important night, as a big blogger critic is dining), but we’ll give him that.

Throughout the cooks language and camaraderie is exactly right and should make anyone want to be a cook, because cooks are almost unfailingly the best people to hang with. Period. As Jon Leguizamo makes ebulliently clear in his great performance.

Other great details the movie gets right. Cornstarch. Guy cooks know and it works. See the movie if you want more.

I appreciated the scene where the young son, 10, is about to serve a burned sandwich and Chef takes him aside to give him a little morality-of-cooking lesson, or so I read it (and wrote about it, burned chips, in Making of a Chef; it’s important).

Oh! The owner and chef fighting. Classic. Predictable but all the more appalling in its predictability.

Chef flies off at a food writer critic, a powerful foodie who really has no understanding of what the work involves and basically squats over the chef and takes a dump on his face. As it were. This is the event that sets everything in motion. Mid-movie Chef has the opportunity to call the oily smart critic to task in the restaurant, loudly and all too YouTubable. How many chefs would like to do the same to all the knuckle-headed Yelpers and snarky bloggers who don’t know shit? That was fun.

And it leads to the great handle the movie has on the power of social media, which Chef Casper doesn’t understand but which his young son manipulates credibly and masterfully to make their road trip financially successful. A four-star chef implodes, buys a food truck, is resurrected.

Tired story? No, old and true story. And again the scaffolding for great characters, great writing, especially dialogue between cooks (awww, let’s have a threesome right here), and a completely credible view of the work of at least one chef.

Donna’s comment on leaving, after saying how delightful Chef was: “You know, I liked everyone in that movie. Every one. I really liked everyone.”

Even the asshole food blogger. Chef. Highly recommended.

 

If you liked this post on Chef, the movie, check out these other links:

© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

 

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51 Wonderful responses to “Chef, the Movie:
A Review, Kind of”

  • Kathy S.

    I loved everything about this movie. Favreau puts so much heart into everything he does, and it helps that part of it was filmed in my town (Austin), though I would have loved it even without that. If John Leguizamo doesn’t get a Best Supporting Actor nod for this, then something is very wrong with the industry.

    • Kevin

      I don’t live in Austin but I do like the town tremendously. How great was it looking over their shoulders at Guero’s and seeing Homeslice in the background? Made me want an eggplant pie so hard.

  • Rita Connelly

    Thank you for the fab review. I really liked it but wondered what real kitchen people would think.
    Gotta go, I’m craving a cubano.

    • Kurt Schweter

      Well Rita, as a Chef , and in this profession for 40 years,,, just let me say this,, – skeptical going in,,
      choked up and unable to talk leaving – they got “chef’s” spot on – made me remember a certain rant I went on at a GM years ago

  • Sue D.

    So agree with your review. The story was weak, but there was so much to like about the movie. The soundtrack had me dancing in my seat. Getting to see Austin, my town, featured so well was a joy. Wish I had known when they were filming. Still wonder what he did with all that food he made in his apartment during that meltdown.

  • Michael pardus

    I particularly enjoyed the close in shots of the food he cooked for friends and family. The love that went into the grilled cheese sandwich got his son was palpable. You’d have to have cooked like that for someone to catch it, but it’s there.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      yes, this was a particularly moving example of food meaning so much more than food.

      • Reese Marino

        That same thing was also evident when he cooked that dish for Scarlett’s character. No actual sex in that scene, but the intimacy was sublime. Needless to say, I loved the movie as well!

      • carolina

        I Love the trailer so much that before I watched the movie I did some cooking videos with the Cuban Recipes: The Initial Menu that I planned ahead to do cooking videos inspired by the movie were: Homemade Cuban Bread,Yucca (Root) with Cuban Mojo Sofrito, Mojo Marinate Pork Shoulder (Pernil) and of course Mojo Pork Cubano ( Sándwich cubano de Pernil). The preparation start on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday I decide to add and Plantain Chips (Tostoncitos) and made some Medianoche too!.

        The Chef Spanglish (Cuban Dishes Inspired by the Movie the Chef -2014) http://carolinasculinaryjourney.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-chef-spanglish-cuban-dishes.html

    • David Butler

      If you stayed for the credits, there is a great grilled cheese out take with the on set chef showing Mr Favreau how to “get in it” or something to that effect. I would love to see all the B roll shot for the kitchen scenes!

    • Lisa Teiger

      as a catering chef who is married to a 40 year in the biz European trained chef, we actually went to see it on day one (and we rarely go to the movies) That was my absolute favorite line ever too “don’t be an amuse douche” We laughed and teared up many times and have totally recommended the movie to all our industry friends. It hit all the right notes. And as much as I personally hate John John Leguizamo from a sucky catering experience when he was coming up in the 90′s and he was a complete imperial little $hite to our staff, who didn’t recognize him and kowtow sufficiently, he did give a great performance. (wish he had acted instead of being himself on the set back in the day)….
      Totally an industry favorite!
      and although my restaurant owner friends took the side of the owner …. they all still loved this movie!

  • Angela WOod

    We saw Chef this weekend, too, and loved it. Headed straight to Lardo for dinner … so craving a Cubano! Even our 13 yr-old son loved it.

  • Pat Anderson

    A movie I’ve got to see! Thanks for the recommendation.

    The most recent chef movie I watched was an older one, Big Night, (with Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub) that I had missed first time around.

    I need another fix! :-D

    • Kevin

      Big Night is just about the best food movie ever. Nothing else encapsulates the love and healing power that can go into food as much as the final scene. The brothers epic fight and meltdown the night before fades away as they share an omelet together in the morning.

      And who can forget “make it, make it, make the pasta!”

      Bwahaha.

  • Natalie Luffer

    I agree with your review 100% that it was a great movie. Interesting too is that you say the acting was true to life interactions which is what made the movie believable. I fell in love with the personality of Jon Favreau in this movie and all that came with me loved the movie enough to take it with us to the coffee and dessert part of the movie. I love a movie that creates an evening of conversation…especially since we have been having our Saturday lunches at any given food truck now in Montreal.

  • tina powers

    Even women chefs love the cornstarch trick..fabulous film..this chef and her crew just loved it

    • Michael Ruhlman

      I didn’t know this was enjoyed by the distaff side as well. thanks, chef.

    • Tim

      My wife, Chef Lisa (Now a Food Service Director) said the same thing.

  • Carri

    More good chef films I have found are the German ‘Mostly Martha’ (no reservations is a less well done remake of this) and a couple of Korean gems. a movie called Kimchi Battle 2 and a 20 episode series called ‘Pasta’…perfect for satisfying those food movie cravings, just be sure to have snacks at the ready because you will be hungry. Anyone else have any they have found, do share!

    • Tim

      Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. Scene where the master saves the day (and his walk through the HUGE hotel kitchen) when fake Shark Fins are procured is a classic.

  • Vivian

    Absolutely loved this movie, right down to the egg shown mid credits. Great little tutorial by Roy Choi.

  • Gordon Smith

    I rather enjoyed the movie. As a chef that has done almost the same thing it was highly amusing to see someone write a movie eerily similar to what I did in my early days. I had a much grander fall but still it was great to see it all on screen. A few things here and there I found to be insane but oh well it is a movie. No chef in their right mind would use cornstarch, instead of arrowroot or agar agar.

    • Brad

      They weren’t cooking with the cornstarch! No cook would put agar agar, or arrow root or Ultra-Tex 3 in their drawers- cornstarch cheap and steal able!

  • Susan Rebillot

    I loved this movie, too! It was not what I expected– I expected more focus on the vitriol between the chef and the food critic, and the story was actually sweet. I loved the credible portrayal of a chef who recaptures his passion and joy for creating flavors and good food! I am new to the world of food blogs, and I am not a trained chef, nor food critic, so I would never presume to review a chef’s or professional cook’s work. I know what my palate enjoys, but I never think that my opinions about food are ” correct.”

  • Nelson Gonzalez

    Thank you so much for this great review I fell in love with the movie, I do hope that the DVD/Blu-Ray version has a lot more about the food recipes and lots of extra and by the way thank you for following my Magazine @sofritomagazine on twitter

  • Ivy

    A truly wonderful movie, well researched, well written, well acted. My 13 year old foodie daughter and her friend also loved it. I had only one complaint. The two main female characters aren’t adequately fleshed out and don’t go beyond the superficial. We don’t actually ever find out what Sophia Vergara’s character does for a living (although she answers her door in full make-up and gowns). Scarlett J.’s character is basically used as a pretty face and a sounding board. In such a thoughtful movie with mass appeal, it was a shame for the women to be Hollywood cardboard cutouts.

    • Devin

      Ugh Ivy… WHY do some females like yourself feel the constant need to inject comments like “In such a thoughtful movie with mass appeal, it was a shame for the women to be Hollywood cardboard cutouts.” into the conversation? A couple months ago I watched the new 300 movie and in it there is a female lead character who halfway through the fight scene gets punched directly in the face by a man twice her size easy and she takes it with barely an effect. Now any sane person knows there is NO way that would happen in real life. And this applies to TONS of movies where women do things that they can’t possibly do in real life. I will gladly trade you the occasional women background piece to not have to watch that nonsense in every movie. Deal? no wait, cause you would complain about that then too.

      • Ivy

        Maybe you missed the part where I mentioned I brought two teenage girls to see the movie. Maybe you are clueless about role models. Maybe you have no idea how society works. Your comment “females like yourself” tells anyone reading your post that you generalize and stereotype. How does a women getting punched in another movie have anything to do with the movie CHEF and the point I was making? In case you weren’t watching, CHEF is a reality-based movie, not an action/thriller/fantasy.

        • Devin

          I am clueless?? There were plenty of role models in the movie and I think it is ridiculous that you needed them to be female to be role model material for your teens. And yes, females like yourself means not everyone woman just ones like you so I am not generalizing or stereotyping all women. And how does what I said before have anything to do with the movie Chef? Because you are complaining that women are not portrayed realistically in Hollywood movies and I agree! I would love to see women portrayed realistically! But if you were sitting in a Hollywood movie that wasn’t Chef and a women was shown being physically inferior to men you would complain about that too.

          • Ivy

            Not to beat a dead horse, but my comment had nothing to do with women being portrayed as physically inferior to men in the movies. I said I loved the movie but noted that the female characters weren’t developed enough. I’ve said the same about male characters in movies. You’ve mistaken critiquing a movie as complaining.

      • Camorrista

        Everybody has the right to be stupid on occasion but you abuse it.

  • Chef Jim

    Spot on review! It was truly refreshing to see it how it is instead of how someone wants us to see it! Yeah, the story line was old, but the twist of using a chef and the food industry to bring it to light once more was the best twist ever! Like you I was constantly smiling at how well the characters assumed the persona of the kitchen! When I recommend it to friends I do so with this caveat: Don’t go on an empty stomach! Was so craving a Cubano when we left the theater!!

  • Sandy Leatham

    Hi Michael, I too loved this movie for it’s honest depiction of the industry. AND I saw it before dinner – so was extraordinarily hungry/keen to eat, by the time we got to the table!! The only thing I thought might have been a bit wrong, early in the movie, was the fact that they had prepped for the ‘new’ menu then at last minute, just before service, because of the owner, switched to the old – for which they had not shopped and prepped. I thought this would have caused a bit more anxiety than they showed. But yes, I loved it.

  • Chef fan

    Loved Chef and wish the El Jefe truck would appear in San Diego! And mahalo to Roy Choi for his expert guidance of Jon Favreau & the cast! I saw Chef at Arclight La Jolla last week. If you stayed through to the end of the credits you saw a short Arclight interview with Roy. (The interviewer was a bit cheeseball, IMHO, but it was still worth the watch.)

    • Dan in WNY

      Choi’s work here was terrific – I hear that Floyd Cardoz did the same for The Hundred Foot Journey. And Keller did for … Rattatouille? Spanglish? Both?

      But I don’t think I could sit through an interview with Choi – i haven gotten over what a tool he was on Top Chef.

  • Allen

    Great review, you should do more of them.
    Even non food related films, just to stir it up.

    I want to hear a story that hasn’t been told before.

    The Chilean film Gloria was the last one I truly enjoyed.

    I will try to see Chef this weekend if it’s still in theaters, otherwise I’ll see it on Redbox in a few weeks.

  • Joe

    I love all of your work. You actually spoke at my graduation from the CIA in October of 2000. Time flies.

  • Julie

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention the music in the movie. It was great!

  • Tom Flynn

    This was a great movie… The food, the music and the acting were wonderful… Went and had a cubano on the way home and bought the sound track the next day… But what made it particularly good was that Carl Caspar, although a flawed man…as we all are to some degree… wasn’t an infantile imbecile or a psychopath… He was a Dad with something to teach his son and he did it… Great to see for a change.

  • Bob Lai

    Favreau actually trained for the role – not as extensive as going to the CIA, but he worked with chefs to ‘get it right.’

    I may have to grab this on DVD or Netflix, as the local cineplex isn’t showing it. It’s apparently an ‘art’ film and outside the demographic.

  • Mary

    I loved the movie, enjoyed your professional take on the movie, and reading civilized comments (with the exception of Devin) focused on the movie, without snide trolling. Gad to find your website!

  • Michael Trippe

    I completely agree. I am not a chef but I am passionate about cooking and find great satisfaction in cooking for others. Nothing but my best will do.

    Watching this film was pure joy. To see the camaraderie and the attention to detail and the desire that it be right – not to mention the food porn scene when tasting their first batch of pork – made it some of the best moments I have spent in a movie theatre. On the way out, I asked my wife what she thought to which she replied she thought it was a really great film.

    As a passionate ‘cooker’ and foodie I had to qualify my response and say that, putting the food part aside, I still found it to be one of my favorite films ever. But factoring the food aspect into it, it just made it that much sweeter.

    Thanks for your post.

  • gwyn

    glad you reviewed this movie. so glad i saw it. it was so easy to watch. so easy to chair-dance to. and the characters were so damn earnest. all the kitchen folk i have had the pleasure to know share that characteristic. i even liked sofia v.– i have not been a fan of her work, but i found her totally engaging. i give it three enthusiastic yums.

    on an unrelated note (well, not really i guess…)–i made my first batch of bacon. holy crap. a chunk makes a dandy hostess gift. all of a sudden i’m invited everywhere. oh–i don’t have a smoker so used smoked salt and it did add a little sumthin sumthin. and my egg consumption has taken a conspicuous rise. thanks for what you help me bring to the table.

  • Allen

    This just in:

    It’s federally approved to drink Ruhlman’s aged eggnog in July if you’re all out of gelato, sorbet and ice cream.

    This is currently only approved in the state of Washington and Colarodo, other states to follow.

    If you live in another state, fucking move out right now.

    He’ll to the yeah!

    • Emilia

      I was just thinking about the aged eggnog. Allen, please share more about your experience.

  • Annie

    My husband and I saw ‘Chef’ a few weeks ago and loved it too. It’s good to know that the portrayal of the industry is a fairly accurate one (I believe we have Roy Choi to thank for that part). Sometimes a good story is a good story, even if it’s been told before. While it was a small part of the movie, we liked the relationship between Chef Carl and his ex-wife, Inez. Nice to see a divorced couple who could show love, support, and respect for each other even though they were no longer together. A small part, but an important story driver, because it was Inez who pushed him to pursue that food truck dream again and gets him that truck.

    I didn’t have any expectations except an enormous amount of food porn, but I was so pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this movie. Can’t wait for the blu-ray to come out.

  • Greg

    I HATED this movie, and did not expect to. I agree that the sections of the movie that featured food as the main character were done well, but the rest of the picture was just a silly fairy tale and a shameless Twitter advertisement. Pretty much every character in the movie loves Jon Favreau and would walk over hot coals for him, and I couldn’t figure out why.

    I really didn’t see this as a movie made by a filmmaker who loves food and cooking; I saw it as a movie made by a filmmaker who loves Jon Favreau. If I could go back in time I’d just stay home and watch Big Night again.