3 Stars — Emotionally Challenging

Chef is a delectably satisfying morsel of a tale about a man surrounded by a cornucopia of nourishment while starving on so many levels.

With a star-studded cast, Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) discovers that his talent may be centered in his culinary gifts for a hungry public, but his satisfaction comes from so many other activities in his life that were right in front of him, but he did not see it is a life lesson that has applicability to almost everyone.

Carl is a top chef in a well-known Los Angeles restaurant, and his early fame came from his daring food combinations and tastes. Lately, though, he has been stuck in a rut in many areas of his life.

The restaurant owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman), doesn’t want him to alter his customer’s favorite recipes, his estranged wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara), thinks he is married to his work, and his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), longs for his father, who is never around. The only person he confides in is Molly (Scarlett Johansson), a much younger employee of the restaurant whom he uses for emotional support.

Eager to regain his cutting-edge reputation, Carl is stressed but delighted that a food critic with a huge following is coming into the restaurant, and he decides to organize the kitchen to prepare a feast. In a move that infuriates Carl, Riva the restaurant owner nixes any change in the financially successful menu. The blogger-critic, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), not happy with the same old menu, writes a scathing review painting a picture of a man who has lost his edge and casts Carl on the Internet/Twitter dung heap. Not understanding the power of social media, Carl sends back an equally scathing reply, not realizing that his response wasn’t a private message but was re-tweeted to hundreds of thousands of readers.

This one incident was the capstone of a life built on a bad foundation. You can change the way the outside of a building or a life looks, but if the underpinnings are not laid correctly, the building or life will ultimately collapse. Carl imploded, and he lost his job and reputation.

Rebuilding your career, your life with your former wife and son, your co-workers with whom you spent so much of your time and emotional energy, seems like a mountain too high to climb. And yet, like any great journey, it begins with the first step.

Carl’s first humbling step begins with having to take help from his now successful wife and her successful former first husband, Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.). Marvin, who lives in Miami, gives Carl a beat-up old food truck and declares, “This is the next big thing!” The food truck is a classic metaphor for Carl’s life, because buried in its frame is the potential for a remarkably satisfying life even though the outside looks like a loser.

We won’t spoil the journey that Carl takes, but with the help of his former assistant chef, Martin (John Leguizamo), and son Percy, they rebuild the food truck in Miami and take it on a journey across the United States to Los Angeles. Still not understanding the power of Twitter, Carl is amazed at the crowds that greet them in each city in which they arrive. Meanwhile, 10-year-old Percy is tweeting pictures and stories and locations of their journey out to the world, and their journey takes on a following of epic proportions. By the time they arrive in L.A., Carl has gone through a transformation that heals him on many levels.

Chef will challenge you and is an adult story with mature themes. It is also a touching look at the redemption of the soul that often is only triggered by defeat. The savory flavors of a good life sometimes take awhile to blend like in a slow cooker. This one is a satisfying meal!


» Losing one’s self to the economic demands of our businesses can eventually reveal an unbearable emptiness. Have you ever experienced such a void, and how did you respond?

» Using your work as an excuse for not spending time with your family is a common theme in poor family dynamics. Are there places where you need to work on rebalancing your own life?

» Part of the message of the film is the power of social media. How is social media changing your working world as contrasted with your personal life?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.