Saturday, July 12, 2014

If You Haven't Seen It Yet, Go See Chef (A Movie Review)

Chef Micah's Duck Breast with Risotto
I don’t know when I first became aware of it, but in recent years I began noticing more and more magazine stories about chefs, restaurants and recipes, especially in those in-flight magazines. The mouth-watering photos and terminology conspire to induce palpable sensations of desire.... for cuisine.

Because my son has been in the restaurant trades, I’ve now become aware that there are a whole battery of cooking shows, including competitions like The Voice, except for chefs. Every time I mention that he is now a head chef in a four-star restaurant, the reply is nearly a predictable, “He should try to be on Top Chef Cook Off," or some other reality show featuring chefs and cooking. I just roll my eyes. Being a chef at a four star restaurant is a profession, not a game.

For what it's worth, this isn't the first film to feature exquisite cooking. Babette's Feast took us there. Ratatouille (I know, it's a cartoon) features the kitchen life, too. The film Vatel (a favorite of mine) provides an inside glimpse into how a gifted master can take ordinary things and make them extraordinary. But Chef is the first film that I know of that not only features delicious food and Twitter. Yes, in addition to the stellar cast we also have social media flexing its muscle on the silver screen.

For some reason I found the movie review in our newspaper to be misleading. It stated something to the effect that this was a movie with likeable characters but no real plot until the end when it finally decides to become a story. I couldn't disagree more. Yes, the characters were indeed likeable, and you enjoyed being with them throughout the film. But there was a storyline. The story flowed out from the characters and the situation.

Chef Micah's Spicy Red Snapper
The stars are many here. Jon Favreau, who also directed this entertaining food frolic, is Chef Carl Casper, head chef of a four star restaurant that has a packed house every night, chiefly due to his reputation, a reputation earned years earlier when he was "discovered" by major food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt). The high profile food critic shows up at Casper's restaurant and doesn't like having his high expectations disappointed, so he writes a bad review.

Chef Casper's life situation is complicated. He has a twelve year old son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and a wealthy ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) with difficulties and expectations there, too. What happens next requires a little backstory.

Percy's part of the new-gen of kids growing up with smartphones and social media. Early in the story he begins to teach his dad about Twitter. This stream of Twitter training tips actually turns the film itself into an edutainment. That is, if you wish to learn why people like and use Twitter, this is the film to watch. The new social media is fraught with perils as well as possibilities.

The main conflict in the first segment of the film is between Chef Carl and Riva (Dustin Hoffman) the restaurant owner. The bad review is the result of Chef Carl having to make the food the owner wants rather than push the boundaries of culinary delight the way he did years earlier when he caught the attention of the food critic.

Chef Carl's first mistake was to send a Tweet to the critic calling him an a**hole. He learns, from his son, that the Tweet went viral. He quickly learns what viral is, and the difference between a regular tweet and a private message. He challenges the critic to return in order to prove he's still got his mustard, but then Riva intervenes and demands that Chef not alter the menu. As a result, Carl quits, but does return to the restaurant to give the critic a piece of his mind.

This is where he learns another lesson about the meaning of viral social media. There in the restaurant as he crumbles Michel's lava cake and goes on a rant, we see half the other patrons with smartphones capturing it all on video, which immediately rolls in waves across the Twitterverse. Yes, there are lessons here.

Shankalicious Porketta
Jon Favreau's background includes being director of big-budget high on SFX films like Iron Man. So this film is something of a departure, but it's evident from the caliber of the cast that he's a guy people want to work with. Robert Downey Jr. is here, as is Scarlett Johansson, each of them in surprisingly interesting ways.

As a result of Chef Carl's exit from the restaurant he has to find something else to do, and in Miami he rediscovers his roots and ends up cooking Cuban sandwiches on a food truck with his son. A road trip follows and so does the Twitter universe.

A few reviewers at imdb.com were critical of the film calling it simplistic, but I bought into it. One reviewer called it "undercooked with the wrong ingredients" but I liked the ingredients, and I don't like my films overcooked. It's designed to be a feelgood, with great food, great music and characters you really enjoy being with. And did I mention, good food? I was told one shouldn't go to the film hungry, but it was just after work and... I violated that rule. Indeed, it did make me hungry... hungry to go back to my son's restaurant in Savannah.

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Since we're talking food, I thought I'd close with one of the reviews from Yelp regarding A.Lure where my son Micah is chef. This is from July 5th, two weeks ago today.

The meal that my husband and I ate at A. Lure last week was the best meal we ate during our whirlwind 4-day stay in Savannah. We started the sultry evening off with a fabulous suggestion from the bartender--Blood Orange Martinis. Expertly made and the perfect drink to cool us off.

For starters, I enjoyed the Balsamic Peppered Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad. Served over mixed greens, this was a delightful light appetizer. My husband ordered the Foie Gras special which he swears is hands-down the single best taste appetizer he's ever had! Imagine a light duck pate whipped up with sun-dried tart cherries and served as a generous portion with toast points. A taste explosion! This could be a late night light meal in itself with a glass of Pinot. Another evening perhaps......

I ordered the Peas and Carrots signature entree and was not disappointed. Sea scallops perfectly seared on risotto stirred to perfection served with roasted carrots and a sweet pea coulis. Absolutely melt-in-your-mouth delicious! The hubby ordered the Seafood Pasta special of the day which was a combo of scallops, shrimp, grouper and crayfish in a light Dijon cream sauce. Equally delicious. This is not your typical Low Country Cuisine by any means.

This is a restaurant I will definitely revisit on my next trip to Savannah. Not only was the food sublime, the waitstaff was attentive and the decor delightful. Local art hangs on the walls and the seating is comfortable and the noise level reasonable. Don't miss it!

Meantime life goes on all around you. Taste it!

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To follow on Twitter: @ennyman3

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