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.


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