18 reasons why Jon Favreau’s ‘Chef’ is the ultimate comfort film

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Dan Buffa

Everybody seeks comfort at the movies. When the lights go out, all they want is some suspension of reality, a moderate boost in mood, or a thought-provoking ending to keep their mind running for hours after the credits roll. Jon Favreau’s “Chef” should stay on your mind for days, but not for the same reasons a Christopher Nolan film would. You will be running to the nearby deli after this one.

Favreau’s film is pure comfort, arguably the best time at the movies someone could have-and you can experience the film on Netflix. But let’s say you’re still undecided about starting the Jewish director’s film. Allow me to persuade you. This film is about family, food, and sticking to your guns during turbulent times.

Before we get to reasons, here’s a quick rundown of the plot without giving too much away. Carl Casper (Favreau) is one of Los Angeles’ most renowned chefs, but he’s getting tired of the menu, which borders on boring scallops and insincere chocolate lava cake. When he loses his job as a chef after a flameout with a  food critic (Oliver Platt, so good and malevolent), Casper hits the road on a food truck comeback with his best friend and sous chef Martin, (John Leguizamo), and his son Percy (Emjay Anthony), who he attempts to reconnect with while resurrecting his passion for cooking.

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18. Nobody is muscle-bound or in terrific shape in the film

Sometimes, watching Chris Hemsworth work is distracting because you are stuck wondering how often he works out and if he’s ever had a donut in his life. “Chef” presents no superheroes, biceps wars, or intimidating visuals. Just lots of food, profanity, and realism.

17. Bobby Cannavale will make you laugh

In what amounts to less than ten minutes of screen time, the seasoned New York native shines as one of Casper’s chefs who knows a lot about Twitter which was just starting to boom around the film’s release in 2014. Playing a wildcard in the kitchen but someone you can trust during a rush, Cannavale was terrific.

16. Gary Clark Jr. plays a mean guitar

In Texas, where OG BBQ exists, Clark Jr. reminds you that some great musicians do too. Towards the end of the film, he performs live while Casper and company sell brisket sandwiches. Every film needs some good music.

15. New Orleans gets a supporting actor credit

One of the things that unites Carl and his son is a love for Louisiana’s culture-packed slice of food and artisan heaven. Cafe Du Monde and its classic Beignets. If those aren’t comforting, I don’t know what is.

14. The Wild Magnolias greet you in the first scene

Spliced together with Favreau’s Casper prepping the food for the restaurant’s opening, the New Orleans jam band crank out one of their classics, “Brother John is Gone/Herc-Jolly-John.” You will be moving your hips before the film gets going.

13. Scarlett Johansson has a small role

There are multiple Avengers decked out in Favreau’s film, including Johansson’s Black Widow. But she isn’t merely eye candy here, instead being the friend/lover who really gets Carl to reconsider the food truck idea and tells him to be a better father. Here, the women kick the men into motion, like that big Jewish dinner on Sunday when the table needs to be set. Let’s be honest, if any of us ever needed inspiration, this actress could get us in gear.

12. Dustin Hoffman will make you think better of your boss

You’ve been there at the job. There’s an idea you’d like to try, and they make you feel incredibly small for stepping out of your comfort zone and trying to bring money to your business. Hoffman’s restaurant owner is a deliciously blunt world ender, making Casper feel small for optioning new menu items. “I think you should play the hits,” Hoffman’s Riva says as he attempts to make a Rolling Stones comparison.

11. Get ready to make a Cuban sandwich

Put down the corned beef for a second, and meet “Chef’s” MVP food item: the Miami-infused sandwich that combines simple ingredients such as pork, mustard, cheese, pickles, and just the right bread. If you aren’t making a Cuban sandwich, pressed to delight, you will be going for a different food item.

10. Witnessing the greatest grilled cheese sandwich of all time

As comedian Bill Burr told Favreau and Roy Choi (Chef and food truck origin storyteller) during their Netflix cooking show, this sandwich is why he was there in the first place. Unlike most mainstream films, the director doesn’t cut a food scene in half. In “Chef,” there are extended scenes of food prep, and one involves a grilled cheese that could change moods, stop wars, and create conversation.

9. It’s Favreau doing most of the cooking, cutting, and culinary work

Choi trained Favreau for months before filming, and was there every day on set. The authenticity of a kitchen blends so well with the indie environment that he creates. But from the very first scene to the last, it’s not really acting. As the Jewish director puts it, this became a big part of his life. Not just another movie.

8. Iron Man has a cameo

Before Robert Downey Jr. could become the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain, he was a bad bet for studios. But Favreau went hard for him on “Iron Man,” making sure he got the role. So, after a sequel, the comeback kid paid it back by playing a small role as the self-righteous ex-husband of Casper’s ex-wife (Sofia Vergara). It’s only a scene, but Favreau and Downey Jr. sparring with dialogue reminds you how both men crafted their careers: being storytellers with a script and not special effects.

7. This is Vergara’s best role

I’m not her biggest fan, but the actress (and wife of hunk Joe Manganiello) is really good here as Carl’s ex-wife, but someone who still roots for his success. It’s comforting to see a man and woman not tear each other apart onscreen. Every divorced couple doesn’t throw daggers at each other, and here, it serves the story but also comes off true and honest.

6. This was Favreau going old school after three big films

The comforting fact about “Chef” is that it returned Favreau to where he truly belonged: writing, directing, starring in true, honest mom and pop movies. This was him decompressing after the scrutiny of directing two Marvel movies and a giant bomb of a Harrison Ford movie (“Cowboys and Aliens”). Here, he had all the control and made a gem. That’s a nice story, right? No pun intended, but Favs got back in the kitchen here and it served everyone well.

5. A hush puppies joke is a laugh-out-loud moment

Nothing else is needed here, just know “cornstarch” and “humidity” will always be brothers in your mind from here on out.

4. Amy Sedaris is the world’s most hilarious publicist

She can get you on “Hell’s Kitchen,” even if you just had a public flameout at your former place of employment. Look, one scene, hysterical work, enjoy it.

3. The film celebrates real-life chefs and their highs and lows

Call it an unofficial biopic of Choi’s career. He was once Carl Casper, a guy searching for creativity in a land of complacency. And then he introduced to the world the Kogi BBQ Truck, a fusion of Korean food assembled in a way few attempted before. Along their food truck way, Casper and Martin run into Aaron Franklin, the Texas pitmaster who equips the gents with three stacks of high society in the south: in other words, three large hunks of brisket, cooked extremely low and incredibly slow. This is a film about chefs and their worlds, an experience few get without a knife in your hand and sweat rolling down your forehead.

2. The running time is a crips 114 minutes

A minute isn’t wasted, but the film is patient. You never feel like the legs of the story are outrunning the human beings reciting the tale in Favreau’s picture here. Like Fisher Stevens (Like Favs, grew up in a Jewish middle class family) did recently with “Palmer,” he doesn’t make “Chef” move too quickly or come near a standstill. It’s the perfect length.

1. Fathers and son tales are kettle corn

At the heart of this film, when you get past the delicious food and presentation, lies a father-son thread that really resonates. A scene between Favreau and Anthony right at the end of the second act, when Casper teaches his young boy about the rules of the kitchen and why this isn’t just a job to him, hits harder than it needs to. It’s the extra weight that the filmmaker lends the film and its impact, that truly sets “Chef” apart from most food-related films. And can we talk about the Andouille sausage scene? My goodness. 

Favreau integrates the boom of Twitter into the entire plot, culminating in a special video edited together by Percy that really brings the film home. If I haven’t convinced you by now that this is the most comforting film ever made, then you need to direct me where that flawless comfort level is via Twitter or my email, [email protected]