Chef (2014) came out earlier this year on limited release (only in certain theaters). Carl Casper is a chef who works under creative constraints in a fancy restaurant where he’s expected to make profitable dishes. A food critic’s negative review of his food leads to Carl’s emotional outburst in front of the entire restaurant that explodes on the internet, because of course, this is 2014. He starts a food truck and goes on a trip with his son and pal.
I was expecting sensual scenes similar to the “eat” part in Eat, Pray, Love (2009) (the chopping board with the colorful, super-crunchy vegetables), and while there were a few of them here, the story focuses more on the development in Carl’s career and family life. The most memorable cooking scene is where Carl makes grilled cheese sandwiches in his apartment for his son. The crispy crunch sounds as they bit into their sandwiches made me hate the movie for a moment. Because I wanted some.
The prep scenes capture the kitchen's hectic pace of cooking for customers, when that machine spitting out the order receipts puts immense pressure on the kitchen staff to make food fast and delicious.
Ramsey Michel’s role as an online food critic in the movie introduces the significance of online social networking. Carl was already well known as a chef among foodies, but the viral explosion of his outburst leads to fame. Carl’s son tweets about their food truck (pictures, location, etc), which leads to massive crowds waiting outside the food truck wherever they go.
Why so much Twitter in this movie? Twitter has played a huge role in making food trucks popular in cities like Los Angeles. Unlike restaurants set in buildings, food trucks can be here today, gone tomorrow. A food truck’s Twitter account can update fans and followers on where they will be on a particular day, thus ensuring regular turnout and a more consistent relationship between customers and the food truck.
Therefore, it is no surprise that social networking and smart phones are used as a major plot devices in this movie. Featuring the most cutting-edge social networking tools makes the film extremely current, hip, and relevant to 2014. This also means that it would date easily, not that it’s a bad thing—I see it as a time capsule for the food truck scene in 2014.
As for the characters, my heart goes out to Martin, who is the best and most loyal pal that anyone could ever ask for. He gives up his new position as sous-chef to follow Carl into his food truck business. John Leguizamo plays Martin with charismatic radiance, imbuing the character with a magnetic personality that comes in handy when Carl needs some help lifting heavy machinery into his truck. I would have liked to find out more about the roots of Martin’s devotion to his chef friend, but the film doesn’t leave much room for that since it focuses on Carl’s career as a chef.
Molly (Scarlett Johansson), a waitress at the restaurant that Carl worked at before quitting, vanishes after a half-point in the movie. She shares a romantic, unofficial relationship with Carl but then she disappears, which is normal in real life but awkward in a movie because she had appeared to be an important character, but then her character is discarded after halfway into the movie.
Despite Molly’s odd disappearance, Chef is a sensual watch for foodies or anyone interested in in the food (truck) scene. Just be prepared with a snack—it will make you very hungry.