After working long hours on Mother’s Day, my son, a cook at a respected restaurant chain, told me he hated it.
“Well, would you want to do something else?” I said.
He looked shocked. “Are you kidding?”
That exchange came to mind as I watched “Chef,” Jon Favreau’s charming and funny movie about a chef who quits his restaurant job and winds up happily selling Cubanos from a food truck, reconnecting with his 10-year-old son in the process.
Cooking is one of those professions that require a huge helping of passion (or insanity). You stand on your feet for long hours in a hot kitchen, work like a fiend, routinely get yelled at, suffer cuts and burns regularly, and work nights and holidays.
Unless you own your own place and you’re at the top of the food chain (Grant Achatz of Alinea, for example), you have to cook what your boss and the customers want rather than what you’d really like to cook. In “Chef,” chef Carl Casper quits his job at a prestigious Los Angeles restaurant when the owner (Dustin Hoffman) insists he continue to cook what’s on the menu and what keeps the seats filled: “Be an artist on your own time.”
Thanks to a Twitter war with a prominent food critic, Casper can’t find a restaurant job and ends up buying a food truck. Cubanos, the tasty Cuban pressed meat and cheese sandwiches, are a far cry from what he’s been cooking, but he’s happy to sell them because they’re the best Cubanos, and that’s all that matters.
“Chef” is a movie, not real life, so the kitchen seems to be staffed by a grand total of four or five people, and Casper seems to magically acquire permits in short order in various cities for his food truck. But it’s intensely realistic in the way it captures the love of food that drives every chef. Whether it’s an upscale version of carne asada, barbecue in Austin or beignets in New Orleans, the chefs rhapsodize, close their eyes, drink in the taste and smell of what they’re eating. We can practically taste the food as well, given that “Chef” serves up a healthy dose of food porn alongside its humor and heartwarming story. Don’t go see it if you’re hungry; your stomach will start growling 15 minutes into the film.