Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favrea) used to have a distinct culinary voice, but now he’s slid into a career where he mostly (if unhappily) plays it safe. He’s the head chef at a popular and unambitious restaurant where the owner (Dustin Hoffman) believes, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly, people turn up to have their standard mid-upscale food done well. Occasionally, Carl bucks against the regime of chocolate lava cakes and lobster risotto and caviar eggs, but he usually weakens in the end. You don’t throw away a good job. So when a major food blogger is coming to the restaurant, Carl wants to experiment with something fresh and innovative … but he doesn’t. The blogger (Oliver Platt) trashes him for it, the bad review goes viral, and Carl gets in a flame war without 100% understanding how the internet works. When the smoke clears, he has no job, a lot of meme-able but embarrassing internet celebrity, and no real idea what to do next.
If you’re going to be a stickler about plausibility, I suppose it’s fair to point out that in this movie, things repeatedly work out very easily and very well. But if you’re tuned into Favreau’s wavelength, this doesn’t feel “convenient” so much as “pleasant.” This is a nice movie, a low-stakes hangout film with beautifully photographed food and a fair amount of sympathy for everyone in its cast–including the DEMON INTERNET, in a nice change from a lot of movies that start with the terror of a bad review and the humiliation of a Twitter war. A lack of internet savviness contributes to Carl’s brief downfall, but his son’s professional-level social promotion and video editing skills help bring him back. Critics can be harsh, but they’re also just people doing their jobs. Watch enough comedies where someone or something has to be low-hanging fruit, and the good faith Chef extends to everybody and everything feels as homey and delicious as a perfect grilled cheese sandwich.
About the only thing that actually gets contempt here is the idea of half-assing something. You don’t serve a burned sandwich, even if you’re giving it to someone for free. Make sweetbreads or lava cake or Cuban sandwiches, but do it with technical expertise and heart. Fair enough, and a fair enough mission statement for Chef, which has the amiable nature and casual vibe of Carl’s eventual food truck and also its proficient, loving execution.
Chef is available free on Amazon Prime/IMDB TV.