Going back to the basics is a way of moving forward.
A man goes back to the basics to rediscover his passion, reclaim his soul and reconnect with his 10-year-old son. This storyline may not be particularly fresh, but it works in Chef thanks to up-to-date elements like a food truck and Twitter. More importantly, the tale is served up with warmth and verve.
In addition to writing and directing the film, Jon Favreau stars as Carl Casper, a chef that influential food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) declared one of the best in the country a decade earlier. That was when Carl was based in Miami and lived with his wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara). She is now his ex-wife, but she still treats him kindly, and they share custody of their son, Percy (Emjay Anthony). All of them have relocated to the Los Angeles area, where Carl is the chef at a swanky restaurant owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman), a testy man who forbids him from preparing anything other than the establishment's tried-and-true dishes. The two characters lash out at each other with delightful fits of pique, after which Carl packs up his knives and walks out. While cooling his heels on a trip to Miami, Carl comes into possession of a beaten-up food truck. Soon his new life begins.
Joined by Percy and his kitchen underling, Martin (John Leguizamo), Carl travels back to L.A. in the food truck, making memorable stops in New Orleans and Austin along the way. Percy promotes the team's Cuban sandwiches via Twitter and Facebook, which leads to familiar intergenerational barbs about new media. Salsa music, R&B and New Orleans funk play over the film's lively food-prep sequences.
It's been more than a decade since Favreau has imbued a film with such genuine emotion. That was back in the days of Elf and Made, not effects-driven fare like Cowboys & Aliens. As Carl returns to his roots in his cooking career, Favreau seems to do the same with his filmmaking. By the end of the movie, both have found something worth savoring.