Saturday, May 24, 2014

Chef (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


From the testosterone-fueled director Jon Favreau of Iron Man fame,  "Chef" is a colorful character study, part travelogue, part family drama that goes down as light as a plate of profiteroles.

Favreau stars as Carl Casper, a single minded chef who bears a resemblance to painter Julian Schnabel. In this role, Favreau appears a cross between chefs Guy Fieri and Anthony Bourdain. He is a ranging iconoclast. The tattoos on his arms parallel grill marks and burns, the many years spent cooking and creating behind an infernal kitchen, not only making food but also a gritty business, of chopping, lifting, grinding, mixing and simply sweating.

At the first second, Carl brings in an entire pig wrapped in plastic. The animal is cold, pink and white. This is almost like Tony Soprano about to ice a rival and that is Favreau's point. Cooking is a harsh business. Chefs can bring life and poetry to what is often carnivorous or no longer living. The director doesn't pull his punches in the rough and tumble realm of those who cook.

Carl is restless. He wants to let loose and create as the punk rocker of rotisserie or The Slash of sweetbreads, but his right angled restauranteur Riva (Dustin Hoffman) won't give him creative freedom.

When a supercilious and snobby critic (Oliver Platt) is rumored to appear, Carl wants to showcase his transformative and unconventional dishes, but Riva won't hear of it.

Carl's hands are tied and he is eviscerated by the critic in an online review. After having a public meltdown on the floor that is almost as freewheeling as a WWF smackdown in terms of vocal power, Carl quits.

He meets with his ex (a slightly muted Sofia Vergara) who urges him to try a food truck and cook without bounds.

While on the surface of things, the drama might be fluffy and transparent, the film has a molten center, not only in the richness of Carl and his energy for the culture and ritual of being a chef, but also in the bond he yearns for, with his ten year old son Percy (Emjay Anthony).

Not one character is a cartoon here from the earthy John Leguizamo as a line cook to Robert Downey, Jr. who is effete and sycophantic here as Carl's former rival turned ally.

Along with the cozy pressed bread underdog story is Carl's (and Jon Favreau's) love for the color and rhythm of food and its diverse ingredients that carry the story.

The shots of beef and savory vegetables sizzling in prisms of succulence fire upon the eyes in nothing less than machine gun fire. The montages one after the other, in rapid loops hit you like a dance. This is one film where we can almost feel a root's texture and the meat will make you hungry.

Each locale from Texas to Miami and New Orleans has a unique form. With just a few spare scenes Favreau tells us what it might be like to cook in these places and we are there. Our lips almost kiss a beignet.

More importantly though, "Chef" gives us a smattering of the peril behind the line and the shared circus music of what food and its eccentric ingredients can be, shared between a father and son.

The wildness of food's terrain with its nourishing chemistry, and the necessity of an indigenous meal remains in defiance of a twittering and fritter-less cyberspace.

Write Ian at

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