Chef: A Review

Every once in a while you hit a movie that is just plain beautiful. I mean, real life beautiful. The story is wonderful, the characters and acting are wonderful, and it moves you to want to do what you were made to do. Chef (written, produced, directed by, and starring Jon Favreau) is the story of a successful chef that loves the art and humanity of cooking. But through selfishness he has lost the artistic vision. In fact, he has lost sight of everything important to him. His visionless existence has dehumanized him. He is divorced, he is becoming a shlump of a promise-breaking father, and his food is passionless.

Quick warning, Chef is rated R for language. And it goes over the top to earn that R rating. There is a bit of vulgarity and sensuality, but the rating is really about the triple digit use of the F-bomb.  Having worked in a couple of kitchens, it is not inaccurate. The main character talks like someone who might ruin their family through selfishness. When it comes to linguistic variety, kitchens are basically war zones. Consider yourself warned in both life and movies.. That said, Chef is an excellent story, superbly told.

Though Carl Caspar (Jon Favreau) is a bad guy when the story opens, he is a guy that you root for. You can tell that he once was a great guy. His best friend works for him and would do anything for him. His son wants to be with him. Even his ex-wife likes him and wants him to succeed. He is a good guy who has lost his way. Everyone is on his side except his current boss. He has forgotten himself, traded in his desire to touch and connect with people with the hospitality of lovingly prepared food, for a status. He has traded in a calling for a job. But his life is filled with people who remember.

Because food is mystical. Food is magical. Food is mysterious. When you carefully and enthusiastically feed people something that you love, you are giving them a part of yourself. Food is art and, therefore, a point of contact, a point of fellowship and communion between  people food is a deep and abiding mystery. It is not reducible to the scientifically observable. A bottle of wine and a homemade meal shared with joy and laughter is one of the places where we are at our most human.

Caspar is a chef that has experienced the mysticality of food in his life.  But as head chef he drained his restaurant of life. When he gets a bad review and his confrontation of the reviewer and subsequent mental breakdown in his restaurant accidentally ends up a viral video, he finds himself jobless.

This is where the movie gets amazing. Carl Caspar’s real problem begins to come to light. He has been blaming the reviewer, blaming the restaurant owner, blaming his own misunderstanding of twitter, blaming anyone but himself. But the real problem—the real reason his food has quit connecting with people—is that he has been a terrible father and a terrible husband. While unwilling to connect with the people closest to him he is unable bless people through food.

The story, then, kicks into radness-squared mode. Carl is given a food truck which reignites a vision of returning to his first love, Cuban food. His son Percy (Emjay Anthony) jumps into help. But when his son refuses to do the dishes, Carl melts down just like he did in the kitchen of the restaurant that fired him. Seeing his son turn his back on him, the lights come on. He repents to his son and in his humiliation, new life is born between them. The simple confession and sin-seeing acknowledgment of reality opens the way of wisdom.

The mystery of the way of success for Carl, as a human being, begins to unfold before him. Only the mud of repentant humility can open some blind eyes. The scales did not fall off his eyes until he humbled himself before his own son.

As he begins to win his son to his side–giving himself, and therefore truly treating his own son as his son–he begins passing his knowledge of the mysticality of food onto his him. Then the world reopens.

He rediscovers what food is and what it can do. He reconnects with the world again. By teaching his son how to love people by filling their place with meticulous care, the wisdom that is hidden in his son–in this case his knowledge about social media–is all added to his efforts. Because now his son will work with him. His lack of knowledge about social media is exactly what revealed his clownishness to the world. The only way for him to succeed in the world was to win his son to him. When he is too busy enjoying his son and passing on the things that he loves to worry about making it, he finally makes it

And the music is startlingly marvelous: Marvin Gaye, New Orleans marching band style in particular. Seeing the troubadouric truck crew cooking, cleaning, dancing, and singing together, taking joy in the work of serving and feeding people, was magnificent. One of those touching moments that reminds you that you are glad to be alive in this world. Glad to be, of all things, a human being, because loving and enjoying and blessing other human beings is a first-rate thing.

And that is what Chef is about. A man with a gift for food that has forgotten how to care about the people around him and therefore has lost his soul. Self-centered souls shrivel. But when Carl remembers to love and serve and bless the people around him, when he remembers to consider others as more important than himself, he rediscovers the joy of his humanity.

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