WARNING: This is just one man’s opinion. That is all that this is.
A few nights ago, Hope and I watched the movie, CHEF, on demand. Both of us are cooks. We’ve worked decades in pro kitchens and restaurants, and been FOH and BOH. We’ve worked every single job, from dishwasher, busser, waiter, host, prep cook, line cook, expediter, caterer, sandwich maker, manager, owner, menu maker, recipe creator, even accountant, etc and so on and so forth. We’d been looking forward to seeing a movie that all the talking heads of the cooking entertainment world said got the details right.
Finally. The movie that gets it right. We’d been stoked to see this for awhile.
Hope and I, five minutes in, were like, holy shit, this is fucking terrible.
I will say this: I give Jon Favreau credit for wanting to get some things right – like how he held his knife, or how to execute a grilled cheese or a Cubano properly, or how some restaurant owners are obtuse dickheads who make no sense, or how Food PR people / Managers / Agents can be just so totally lame.
And pretty much everything else in the movie? Wrong, wronger, WRONGEST. Like the writing. The story. The characters. The dialogue. The acting. And the plethora of cooking details that were so incorrect that literally every single scene in the movie was a train wreck.
I feel like Pete Wells must have felt when he went into Guy Fieri’s restaurant in Times Square.
This movie does not deserve to call itself CHEF. Instead, I’d propose, “Jon Favreau’s Chef Fantasy Fulfillment” Written by, Directed by and Starring, you guessed it, Jon Favreau.
The movie did provide a great deal of laughter. Unintentional laughter. On Bill Simmons’ Unintentional Comedy Ratings Scale, I’d rate this movie a 96 out of 100.
“96: The scene from MTV’s “25 Lamest Videos of All-Time” when Vanilla Ice destroyed the set (as Janeane Garofalo and Jon Stewart cowered and Chris Kattan shrieked “No, Vanilla!”) … Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in “Pumping Iron” … Andrew Shue’s performance on “Melrose Place” … Mike Tyson saying, “I guess I’ll fade into Bolivian” after the Lewis fight … Michael Irvin defending himself at the “Shaq Roast 2” with, “They can talk about me like they want to, but, um, I got my money… so matter what you all say, Mike black, but Mike rich!”
CHEF is at that level of a disaster. From the opening minute.
Let us begin with something that figures prominently in this catastrophe… a tweet:
“@Bourdain Apr 30 Trying to think of another Western film that got the pro-cooking details as right as @ChefTheMovie . Can’t. Filled with Inside Baseball.”
Notice that he does not make any mention of whether the movie is actually any good or not. Be attentive to the detail that he says “Western” film. I guess this implies there was an “Eastern” film that gets the pro-cooking details right. Which reminds us that he is worldly. He is. We all know this. And yet this is irrelevant. What IS relevant is that this is a clear example of how the cooking mafia sticks together, even when something is totally dogshit and horrendously unbelievable.
See, his buddy, business partner, and heir apparent Roy Choi put his name on the movie. So, let the ass kissing commence! Would Bourdain say anything different? Would Roy Choi ever be critical of anything Bourdain might say? Who cares if people get the wrong idea? The dopes will still buy the product, right? Because Anthony Bourdain’s opinion has cred. Roy Choi’s opinion has cred. Among lay people. Among cooks. Among cultures far and wide.
But I ain’t buyin it any more guys.
I’ve met Roy Choi a few times. One time was at the LA premiere of the movie SUPERMENSCH, the story of Shep Gordon, who is one of the guys responsible for driving this taste making / celebrity chef creating train that’s steaming it’s way through American culture. I want anyone reading this to know that Roy Choi struck me as a genuinely nice and humble dude, maybe a little bit shy (though maybe everyone seems a little shy next to Shep Gordon.)
Anyway, the SUPERMENSCH movie took a back seat to Shep constantly talking about how Roy’s empire is growing, how Roy’s brand is exploding, how Roy’s the biggest thing in cooking these days, how Roy’s bringing food to the people, how Roy’s got a new book coming out and blah blah blah. Roy, to his credit, was trying to stay humble throughout Shep’s gushing.
So I asked Shep, what about HIS food? What does the culinary luminary Shep Gordon like to cook? What’s his best dish, or signature? Shep seemed a little taken aback. Because, um, who cares? Which led me to remember something…
Everyone in the US, we’re all brands now. Not just entertainers. ALL OF US.
We’re stocks. Some days we’re sold short. Other days we’re bought up like there’s no tomorrow. And brutally, this is how most people in business management see the rest of us. Are we on the rise? Are we marketable? Do we have value?
Shep is as shrewd of a business manager as they make.
Shep’s SUPERMENSCH balance sheet includes training with an uberfamous chef in France. Which I thought was cool. But then, when I ask Shep what he really enjoys cooking, what he’s passionate about creating, he can’t give me an answer? I guarantee that everyone in that theater wanted to know. But, since it wasn’t part of his agenda, because it didn’t fit in the echo chamber of kiss assery that’s going on, no answer would be given.
And that’s when I called bullshit on him in my own mind, and now I call it out on the page. Funny enough, somewhere in the midst of the Q and A, Roy blurted out that Shep makes a mean BBQ Shrimp. I think he knew the question needed to be answered. But it needed to be answered by Shep.
I mean, you’re not passionate enough about cooking that you can’t think on it and say, I really like making a fucking badass roast chicken? Or a badass SOMETHING?
And you’re the guy who’s managing this whole American Food Culture craze?
Anyway, the SUPERMENSCH movie, the ass kiss fest that it is, and the subsequent Q&A love fest that Roy moderated, it all left me thinking, Jesus, has this cooking entertainment industry gotten to the point that everyone is out there just kissing everyone else’s ass, and that’s like, a lot of what they do? Either kissing someone’s ass or getting their ass kissed? Is this part of a chef’s purpose?
Listen, these guys put in hours and hours and hours on the line. They had to. And that alone gets my respect. But what the hell? After that do we just sell out because I guess we all gotta sell out all the way, right?
My friends Rick and Jack knew Shep back in the day. Their nickname for him was Shemp, as in the 3 stooges character. They said he was a sneaky sleeze just like all the music managers back then, and that when the drug shit got too hectic, Shemp was the first guy to run for the hills.
That Shemp couldn’t even tell me what he liked cooking bugged me. That no one else was bothered by this drives me nuts and still burns me up.
I mean, when will the emperor wears no clothes moment come for these guys?
So, Roy Choi approved so much that was so wrong in this movie CHEF. And he not only gets a pass but he gets congratulated? Now that totally pisses me off.
“Roy said ‘I’ll do it but you have to get the kitchen right. Movies always get it wrong. I’ll do everything you need. I’ll train you, do the menus, look over your scripts, help you in the editing room. Whatever you want. But you have to promise you’ll get the details right.’ I said that’s all I ever want to do. That’s the way I work. That’s exactly what I had in mind as well.” – Jon Favreau
Either Jon Favreau is embellishing, or Roy Choi phoned it in. Either way, I don’t trust anything that any of these people say anymore after this movie. And you shouldn’t either. And this ain’t about begrudging some other guy for his success.
It’s about calling out these “luminaries” as the cash grabber stashers they are. And they’re all in league. And they’re trying to get you to buy their brand. Period.
First scene in the movie: “Chef” Carl Caspar, the executive chef of Hatfield’s, or, whatever they called the restaurant (it was shot in Hatfield’s.) He’s doin a little something I like to call, meezing off a shit ton of shit. And did I mention he’s holding the knife correctly and his knife skills look legit? Great. So far so good?
Two problems here in the first minute! First, how many times have I seen the Executive Chef of a place doing all the prep, by himself, in the early off hours? Never. Not once. As in NEVER. Second problem, he goes outside, to leave for the farmer’s market (which is like an um… okayyyyy… kind of decision on the day of your place’s most important service. Still, I was willing to give it a pass if he was going to his truffle guy or his boar guy or his rabbit guy or his shark fin guy or something like that… but no, it’s for ramps or radishes or some shit that he could easily order!) then he knocks on his sous’ car window to wake him.
See, his sous crashed in the restaurant’s lot and passed out there after he drank too much the night before. How responsible. Sort of believable even. Then I thought, how many restaurants in LA have their own parking lots? Not many. Hm. Okay. Let that go Jefferson. It’s a detail that doesn’t matter. But then, I’m thinking of my Big Nights, the pressure packed day and night that came along with some critic coming in, or some VIPs who might be coming in, or a camera crew might be shooting a segment or whatever as it were, and, in this movie, it’s the morning of the most important service his restaurant has ever done, and his sous is so hungover that he looks like he might barf in the food?
Maybe my cooking family tree was uptight. I’ll admit that. But I know if I’d done this kind of shit, it might get my ass fired, or, at the very least, I’d piss off the chef. How’s his sous going to taste anything for the next few hours? Dunno. But none of this bothers “Chef” Carl even a little. Doesn’t make him anxious. Nothing. I pause the movie.
I ask Hope a bunch of questions. I decide it’s okay it’s just a movie. BUT WAIT! They said they were gonna get it right. So, no, it’s not okay.
Do they think this part of the script works because he and his sous have gone to war before? Alright. I guess.
I take the movie off of pause.
“Chef” Carl then goes to the farmer’s market with his son. The kid who plays his son was the best actor in the movie, and with that terrible script, the kid still managed to be sort of believable, even if the relationship he has with his father is not. The kid wants kettle corn. The “chef” dad wants him to have fruit. Awkward and weird moments ensue from there. The kid says something about wanting to go to New Orleans. This reminds me of my first trip there, when I was 13. I tell Hope that this movie is definitely going to take these guys to New Orleans, and the kid will definitely eat a beignet (which happened of course.) Then, “Chef” Carl ends up getting a sausage hoagie and walking around with the kid for awhile like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Good thing he did all that prep in the morning. By himself. Anyway.
Back to the restaurant we go. Sous chef dude Bobby Cannavale is now totally fine. Maybe someone “brought him water.” Jon Leguizamo looks and acts the part of a line cook, reminds me a lot of my buddy Adriano, who I worked on the line with a few years back. The movie should’ve had Adriano starring. Or Leguizamo. It might have given the movie a chance.
Uh oh. Wait a minute. Where are the Mexicans? There’s not one Mexican person in the back of the house? Seriously, you wanted to get the details of a kitchen (in LA!) right, and there are no Mexicans in the kitchen?
What was that stuff about getting the details right?
Oh yeah, I forgot, you were bullshitting us.
Where are the nicknames?! COME ON! Someone calls him Jefe? Jefecito?
Are you fucking kidding me? My name is Jeff and NO ONE in any kitchen I’ve worked in would EVER call me, or any white guy, Jefe.
Joto? Absolutely. Pelon? That was my nickname in 2 kitchens. Way? Way. Puta? Limpio? Culo? Ano? Uno?
I mean, the list goes on and on and on and on.
Oh man. Where are you Roy? It’s getting worse: supposedly, this chef made his name in Miami, but it’s made abundantly clear he doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish. RIGHT! Try speaking no Spanish in a kitchen in Miami or LA and see what happens. Imposible! Pinche toro! Mierda de caballo! Hijo de puuuuuta!
Scarlett Johansson is the hot hostess. This character is like that decorative garnish that you can’t eat. Totally unnecessary. And the moment when he cooks her pasta. Embarrassing for everyone involved. By everyone, I mean, all of humanity. She seriously seems like she’s going to orgasm as she watches him make PASTA. As she eats PASTA. It’s laugh out loud funny that it’s sooo forced and bad! 100 out of 100 on the Unintentional Comedy Rating scale.
Sofia Vergara’s character does what exactly? She’s his ex, she’s a socialite? Their relationship makes no sense whatsoever.
Apparently the “chef” and the restaurant owner haven’t really talked over the menu for the night. Huh? Hold on a second. It’s the most important service in the restaurant’s history and the menu has not been discussed? Until the day of service? Dude! Where are you Roy? How could this be missed?
A famous food blogger, like Oliver Pratt, has as much power as this guy supposedly does? Really? I can’t even give you the name of more than 3 food bloggers who matter.
Oh my God. “Chef” Carl has never even heard of Twitter? Twitter is the whole reason that the Kogi Truck blew up. I guess this guy is the anti-Roy Choi?
Now it’s just getting looney. “Chef” Carl decides the day after the bad review that he’s going to make the menu he really wanted to make the day the famous food blogger came to town. Restaurant owner be damned. And wouldn’t you know it, after a wholly unbelievable twitter flame war misunderstanding, the famous food blogger agrees to re-review the restaurant. Nice of him. BUT of course the mean restaurant owner won’t budge because the clientele expects the menu to be exactly the same. Every day. Ad infinitum. So, the bad review, by the most famous food blogger in food, who says the restaurant’s food was boring, this means nothing to the restaurant owner. And I’ve seen this kind of argument a thousand times. Never have I seen it happen in front of an entire crew.
“Chef” Carl couldn’t make new menu items that sound like the old stuff?
“Chef” Carl couldn’t negotiate even one new menu item with this owner?
All of this leads “Chef” Carl to do something that I have never seen an Executive Chef do. He quits minutes before a service. He quits. Yes, line cooks do it all the time. I think I’ve even seen a Sous do it. Have I seen Chef’s quit during a service? Totally. But an Executive Chef quitting minutes BEFORE? I guess it could happen, but I’ve never seen it, just like I have never seen a car explode, though I suppose one could.
So “Chef” Carl goes home and he makes the menu he really wanted to make anyway, in a mad fit. I’m actually back on board. I’m thinking, cool, this guy’s going to go out on the floor and bring this reviewer guy the food he really wanted to make him. Or he’ll send the reviewer guy pictures of it. This movie has hope.
But no! He makes the food, and then? Who knows what happened to the actual food! Did he throw it away? Who knows? What we do know is “Chef” Carl goes back to the restaurant, he doesn’t bring the food, he goes on a rant about how to make a molten cake, how the bad review hurts, and blah blah blah.
I could go on about more things the movie got wrong. Like the fact that this guy’s food truck is making Cubanos from town to town. Yeah? So how is he sourcing his bread? I mean, if you’ve ever done sandwiches, you know that the bread is the biggest key. This movie doesn’t even bother with the question of the bread. People follow the truck everywhere, they’re totally slammed, the 10 year old kid has people waving money at him, his dad throws him on the line and he’s in the hopper but yet, the kid’s totally fine and they all have a dandy time! No sweat!
Such a load of bullshit. I’m over it. I’m over this whole make believe thing. The details weren’t right.
Roy didn’t give two shits about the details. Maybe he gave one shit. Maybe. Or maybe those guys just hung out and had a good time and made food together and he let Favreau play line cook for a day. But the details, that inside baseball that was better than any Western movie? They suffered so greatly that the superfamous food blogger guy is going to bankroll “Chef” Carl’s next restaurant at the end of the movie, cynically deciding that the derisiveness of their relationship will generate hundreds and hundreds of covers a night. Apparently foodblogging makes people millionaires these days.
“Throughout the cooks language and camaraderie is exactly right and should make anyone want to be a cook, because cooks are almost unfailingly the best people to hang with. Period. As Jon Leguizamo makes ebulliently clear in his great performance. Other great details the movie gets right. Cornstarch. Guy cooks know and it works. See the movie if you want more.” – Michael Ruhlman
So Ruhlman takes the piss out of all of it a little bit. Good for him. Who knows what he really thinks about the movie. He could be sarcastic the whole way or just for part of it. I have no idea. I do know Ruhlman’s cookbooks are awesome and helpful. I’m surprised that Favreau didn’t give him credit for The Elements of Cooking, which Favreau probably referenced. If he didn’t, he should’ve.
But anyway who gives a shit about cred? Who slaves over details? A chef does. A writer does. A filmmaker does.
But mostly, a chef does.
So I’m disappointed, I’m pissed off, and I’m still waiting for the movie that gets it right.