If food be the music of love then Chef composes a mouth-watering symphony of Cuban flavours to delight the palate of World Cup-weary audiences, who crave a heart-warming drama garnished with gentle humour.
Written and directed by Jon Favreau, this uplifting confection works to a tried and tested recipe of triumph against adversity, and taps into the rising popularity of food trucks as a lunchtime hang-out for famished American office workers.
Snappily edited scenes of high quality produce being transformed into plates of calorie-loaded deliciousness make any hot dogs, nachos and popcorn from the concessions stand look bland by comparison.
Be grateful that the Smell-O-Vision and AromaRama systems, which heightened the immersive experience of films by releasing scents into the theatre, never gained traction otherwise Chef’s 114-minute running time would be exquisite, stomach-rumbling agony.
By the end credits, my appetite was well and truly whetted for one of the film’s Cubano pressed sandwiches filled with juicy roast pork, boiled ham and molten Swiss cheese.
The culinary wizard responsible for this raging hunger is Carl Casper (Favreau), who is the star attraction at a Los Angeles restaurant owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman).
Prestigious food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), who reportedly sold his online blog for $10m, makes a reservation at the restaurant and Carl excitedly plans a new tasting menu with sous chef Tony (Bobby Cannavale), line cook Martin (John Leguizamo) and sassy hostess Molly (Scarlett Johansson).
‘You know what I would do? Play your hits,’ argues Riva and he forces Carl to revert to his signature dishes.
Ramsey’s poor review, which berates Carl for resting on his laurels, ignites a bitter war of words on Twitter.
‘You wouldn’t know a good meal if it sat on your face!’ the chef informs Ramsey.
Their argument spirals out of control and Carl publicly quits his job.
Ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) invites Carl to accompany her and their young son Percy (Emjay Anthony) to Miami to reconnect with his roots.
In familiar surroundings, Carl entertains Inez’s canny suggestion of a food truck and the chef transforms a worn-out vehicle into a mobile eaterie par excellence with help from Percy and Martin.
Chef wears its heart on its olive oil-spattered sleeve, establishing an emotional divide between Carl and his son, which might be bridged as they spend valuable time together travelling on the road.
Social media assumes a pivotal role in the script and Favreau employs sparing visual effects to illustrate how Percy builds word of mouth for the food truck by harnessing the power of the internet.
Favreau and Anthony are an adorable pairing, and Robert Downey Jr injects ribald humour to his fleeting scenes as Inez’s germ-phobic first ex-husband.
Heartfelt scenes of confession and reconciliation ensure tears flow as freely as the overpriced vino from Riva’s cellar.