Published Jun 05, 2014With the current state of social media, the old adage "You are what you eat" has never seemed so relevant. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have all fallen prey to camera-wielding foodies, leading some to argue that where you go and what you consume carries more cultural weight than the curated clothes and ruddy record collections of yesteryear.
Apparently Carl Casper never got the message. An award-winning chef of the forty-something hipster variety (played here by Jon Favreau), Casper was content to simply ride on the coattails of his early culinary breakouts while cashing cheques as head chef of a world-renowned eatery. But when a snarky food critic named Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) decides to review his restaurant for a popular food blog, Casper comes out of his creative coma and attempts to wow the critic with a new set of dishes.
Forced by his boss (Dustin Hoffman) to cook the venue's more traditional fare, Michel decides to chew him out online; when Casper's son introduces him to the world of social media, things only go downhill from there. After accidentally tweeting Michel in what he assumes was a private chat, Casper quickly becomes an Internet-sensation for all the wrong reasons, leading to an expletive-laden beatdown of the critic captured in-house on YouTube that results in his permanent dismissal from the cookery he helped create.
With no job and the rift between him and his estranged family growing worse by the second, he elects to go on vacation with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) and son to Miami in the hopes of reconnecting with his culinary roots. Instead, what he finds is a food truck.
Written and directed by Favreau, it's easy to see similarities between the storyline of Chef and the critically acclaimed director's own transition to fame from a peddler of warm-hearted indie flicks (1996's Swingers, 2001's Made) to a box office monster (Iron Man and sequel). However, to see Casper's schlubby transformation from commercial prosperity to creative freedom as an allegory of Favreau's own career would be missing out on Chef's deeper portrayal of the positive and negative effects of social media in a globalized society, as well as its joint impact on the modern family. (Although it was his son introducing Casper to the world of social media that forced him to let out his inner id on the self-proclaimed foodies and critics around him, it's that same knowledge that allows Casper to fully realize his dream of being an independent chef by using platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Vine to promote his DIY business.)
Food porn addicts will have to look elsewhere, because while issues of Lucky Peach may be seen strewn across Casper's kitchen, the majority of the film's close-up food shots are of gooey grilled-cheese sandwiches, hearty hash browns and Cuban ham and cheese melts — a move no doubt chosen to emphasize Casper's (and Favreau's) back-to-basics approach.
The film loses its lustre in its final act (save for an unexpected cameo from Iron Man buddy Robert Downey Jr.) due to some plodding scenes that show father and son washing the food truck, procuring food and travelling the countryside in an attempt to showcase their bonding. It's Favreau's depiction of Chef Casper — his most fully realized character in years — that will keep viewers' attention, thanks to his Tony Soprano-esque swagger and grandeur.
While not as rewarding on first viewing as Swingers once was — this is a family drama directed by a family man, as opposed to the neurotic and weak-willed Mike Peters that once dominated VCRs — Chef serves up something for young and old Favreau fans alike and is certainly one of the best films of his career.