Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Chef

Lowdown: A renowned chef goes back to basics after a failure at standing by his principles costs him his status.
Review:
Yes, I have a problem with celebrity chefs. Sure, they can cook. As reality TV shows us again and again, they can also put on a show. So what? I know plenty of people who can cook a mean meal, not to mention the fact that it doesn’t take much more than a bowl of hummus to please me. However, in the process of raising chefs to stardom we tend to forget some of society's bigger heroes. The likes of teachers, nurses and scientists, people with true impact on our lives.
I am willing to forget that for take sake of an hour and a half plus of easy entertainment following a long week, which is exactly why I found myself watching Chef. Written and directed by Jon Favreau, Chef follows Carl (Favreau yet again), a celebrity chef working at a celebrated LA restaurant owned by a Dustin Hoffman character keen on nothing more than preserving the status quo of his joint.  The conflict between the two poses a problem when a famous blogger food critic (Oliver Platt) is due to visit the restaurant: Should the restaurant go bold, as Carl would like, or should it go conservative, as per the boss?
Following plenty of food porn scenes Carl finds himself on the losing side. Worse, his career takes further hits through Carl's own ignorance in the ways of social media. Worst, he is at risk of losing the love and admiration of his young son in the process.
Salvation comes through Carl’s ex-wife (Modern Family’s SofĂ­a Vergara), who puts a revolutionary idea in our chef’s head: go back to basics. Which is exactly what we get, both in the form of going back to basic foods (the equivalent of that bowl of hummus I had previously mentioned) as well as the good old fashioned road trip across the USA that had served so many a film’s progression.
Easy going is the key word with chef. That ease is aptly supported by a wonderful soundtrack featuring plenty of Cuban jazz (listen to it here), coupled with plenty of food porn, and an under utilised cast that doesn’t mind the fact and goes with the flow. The latter includes Scarlett Johansson and Favreau’s long time friend and colleague Robert Downey Jr.
The result is relaxing, feel good fun. That is, if you can withstand the barrage of Twitter product placement thrown at you poor viewer: it’s constant, it’s relentless, and it comes in carpet bombing amplitudes. Not that this bombardment seems to have done much to help Twitter’s ailing business model. I hope nearly destroying this movie cost the company an arm and a leg.
Worst scene:
Perhaps the best conveyor for what Chef feels like is a scene depicting Carl shortly after his downfall. Getting ready for round two, we spend a few minutes witnessing him preparing – in great detail – a meal worthy of kings. Yet after all is said and done, he does nothing with this meal. Worse, us viewers are never told what happened to all that food (was the scene where Carl donates it all at the nearest shelter for the homeless cut?).
My point is simple. In the process of making Chef, Favreau shot some lovely scenes of him preparing stylish food with much bravado. These scenes were nice. Too nice, Favreau must have reckoned, to leave behind on the floor of the cutting room. His solution? Stick it somewhere inside the film, no one would notice.
Overall: I liked the food porn and I liked the counter master chef message even better. I also liked the prevailing feel good notions. 3 out of 5 tasty crabs.

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