*** ½ out of four
Every once and a while there comes a movie that is so fresh and wonderful that I just want to tell everyone I come in contact with to go and see it. Chef is one of those movies. This wispy little comedy is pure joy.
Jon Favreau, director of big budget action/science fiction epics like Iron Man and Cowboys & Aliens, goes for small and personal here in a film he wrote, directed and stars in. Venice, California chef extraordinaire Carl Casper (Favreau) is bored because he is forced by his employer (Dustin Hoffman) to stick to the same menu. Finally, when he is slammed by a food critic (Oliver Platt), Casper quits his job. By the nudging of his ex-wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara), Casper goes down to Florida, with his pre-teen son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), in tow, to acquire a fixer-upper food truck. Casper's long time friend, Martin (John Leguizamo), meets them there to help out.
The absolute best passage in the movie is when they take the food truck on the road from Florida to California, stopping off in New Orleans for beignets and Texas for barbecue. Along the way, father and son bond over the love of food and cultures.
There are no heavy and unnecessary melodramatic turns in Chef. It's just a light comedy with lots of soul. The characters are well defined and there are many smile-inducing moments, like when Casper and Martin sing along to the Hot 8 Brass Band version of "Sexual Healing".
And don't see Chef on an empty stomach, for the beautiful close-ups of food dishes are mouth watering.