On ‘Chef’ and other food movies


Part I On Food Movies and Food Reviews
Part road movie, part reunification story, but mostly food porn, feel good and hip comedy ‘Chef’, has been much lauded.
This is part of a series of three blog posts about food movies and food reviews. Today, This Girl is thinking about Chef and the food film genre.
Spoiler alert
If you didn’t get to see it, genius chef, Carl Capser (John Favreau), is at the pinnacle of his career. Years of perfecting his craft has culminated in the night revered and feared, food critique and
blogger, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) intends to dine.
On the verge of the culinary spectacular, he is stymied by risk adverse restaurant owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman).

Against his better judgement he serves up old favourites, much to the dismay of Michel, and gets an LA style online lampooning. With a few of the basics from son Percy (Emjay Anthony), social media newbie Capser, gets even, retaliating over Twitter. It escalates of course, until he confronts Michel in a public melt down which ends his reign in one of the city’s most prestigious kitchens and leaves him one of the untouchables. It does however, produce a Twitter following you couldn’t buy and the roux for the plot. Along the way, the viewer is voyeur to mouth watering close ups of
Capser’s creations, from restaurant masterpiece to home cooked comfort food.

Tip: Never tweet in anger.
From rock star to rock bottom, Casper takes to the wheel of a clapped out food truck. Revamping the van gets him back to the basics, reigniting his passion for real food for real people, serving it up on the street during his travels. On the journey he rediscovers himself and reestablishes his relationship with his son.
Like a well-worn recipe, it has a lot of the ingredients for success.

Right now, the West is obsessively preoccupied with cooking, or at least watching other’s cook. Capser is the groove maestro in the kitchen, replete with knuckle tattoos. Street food is totally in right now. Social media is still in too, although if they were filming today it would have been Instagram not Twitter used. Child actor, Emjay Anthony, is heart warming
and a natural to the screen. There’s eye candy (Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Sofía Vergara).
And there are miles of highway footage in the great tradition of American road movies.

The film is a bit obvious though. Capser is basically selfish. It’s hard not to spend most of the movie cringing at the dismissive relationship he has with his son who is desperate for his affection.
The women characters are largely incidental and the script is a bit…meh….

But I admit I laughed, a lot. I enjoyed the movie and felt happy watching it. I wanted dad to notice his boy’s devotion and love him in return. I wanted to smell, touch and taste all that delicious food showcased. Damn it! I wanted to be in that kitchen with Capser, learning his techniques and sharing the success. Most of all I just wanted to live in his open plan LA flat.

Foodie shows dominate our televisions right now. They’ve changed the way many people eat, cook and entertain. They’ve brought the recalcitrant into the kitchen, boosted egos, initiated social events, and caused more kitchen (and financial) anxiety than ever before.
Chef’s popularity is riding the coat tales of this genre. Even the food truck’s specialty, a Cubano (pork, cheese, ham, baguette) is out of reach of many because you need a double-sided sandwich press to make it.
Errr…I have one.
One of the things it got This Girl to thinking about was the food films that have come before ‘Chef’. I realised I haven’t seen a lot but here are some I still have memories of.

A Japanese comedy from 1985 where a failing restaurateur crowd sources a way to perfect her noodle soup and saves her business. The story is interspersed with random food vignettes and includes an underworld subplot with a gangster who has some creative uses for food.

I saw it at the annual alternative film festival in Townsville with my new and somewhat older boyfriend. There was noodle making and erotica. The most memorable scene: lemon and salt, and cream dusted breasts (not at the same time or perhaps not the same breast. The details are fuzzy now). I was naïve and 19 years old but the memory is indelible. More on Tampopo here.


A 2007 animation about a rat that can cook. The tagline is of course, ‘Anyone can cook’. You can’t go wrong with a movie that stars a cute rat and a restaurant, except when the health inspector arrives. The beauty of Ratatouille is that it is a story about what you are capable of when you are given wings and let fly. Here’s one such scene and more about the film.

Julie and Julia

The first film I went to see myself in 2009. I just loved it. It’s another feel good foodie comedy about finding yourself. Julia Childs, the woman acclaimed as teaching Americans how to cook, started her own journey of self-discovery in the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.

It’s a story of parallel lives where American, Julie Powell, struggling to find her own self-worth, decides to cook her way through Child’s classic French cooking text of 524 recipes in 365 days, all awhile blogging.

Those of you who cook with heart and soul, or at least high drama, might relate a little to her kitchen meltdown when she is sprawled and crying in the middle of the floor along with most of the night’s dinner, ‘There’s all this stuff on the floor!’ she weeps.

Reflecting on her journey of self-discovery and French cooking, Julie’s best line is, ‘I was drowning and she [Julia Childs] pulled me out of the ocean.’

Here’s Julia at cooking school. What an inspiration.
Like Water For Chocolate
The 1992 film based on Laura Esquivel’s novel of unconsummated love. Tita and Pedro are in love but are forbidden from marrying because a Mexican tradition requires the youngest daughter to care for the mother until her death. Pedro marries the sister to stay close and Tita is relegated to the kitchen to cook for the family. Food is a metaphor for Tita’s love for Pedro and she pours her longing into her cooking.
It is a story in the tradition of South American magical realism.

The most memorable and angst-ridden scene was her making the wedding cake for Pedro and her sister’s wedding. Exhausted from cooking for 180 guests and overwhelmed by the pending marriage of her beloved to another, she cries her despair into the cake’s icing. The cake causes the kind of stir cooks are not generally looking for:

The moment they took their first bite of the cake,
everyone was flooded with a great wave of longing…
…But the weeping was just the first symptom of a
strange intoxication – an acute attack of pain and frustration – that seized
the guests and scattered them across the patios, the grounds, and into the
bathrooms, all of them wailing over lost love.
While on the surface they might be thought of as food movies, all these films use food as a  vehicle for something more profound: self-discovery, connection, love and sex, and success.
What’s your favourite food movie and why?

For Hobart’s first mover in street food find our original Taco Taco post here.Here’s a clip from Chef the movie.

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