Work is A Dish Often Served Cold (Movie Review of Chef)

It is pretty good!

I’m not particularly interested in food.

I’ve never found it enthralling, worth seasoning, worth making a big fuss over. I don’t understand all of the reality shows, celebrity chefs, over-played commercials or much of anything else. I certainly didn’t see it as “art”. Food is just something you put in your mouth and eventually (like most things in our life) it comes out the other end, worse off.

With all of that said, it doesn’t sound like I’d enjoy a movie called Chef (2014)but you’d be wrong.

You’d be wrong in because the story mostly focuses on Carl Casper (played by Jon Favreu) whose boss (played by Dustin Hoffman) proves to be too controlling for Carl. So Carl decides to strike it on his own, do it his own way and gets a food truck to be head chef of. He takes a friend and former sous chef along the way, as well as his son.

The son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), is really the heart of this movie.

Carl is completely behind on technology, his son has practically mastered it at 10. But he hasn’t mastered it in a way that the technology masters him. He clearly spends his time using his iPad for things he not only finds funny (like a cat with a gatling gun shooting terrorists) but for things he wants to keep. Percy uses it for videos, pictures, Tweeting where he’s at with his father in terms of locations so he can help his father’s business grow and so on.

Unfortunately, Carl isn’t the best father. The culprit is, as you guessed it, work. All throughout the first hour of the film we see time and time again how Percy has expected to see his father late. He is disappointed but not surprised when they cannot do things together. Percy has simply accepted that being a grown up means you have to work for people you hate, who limit your freedoms and treat your coworkers like crap. These are the lessons that Carl teaches but not ones he necessarily wants to teach his son. And as the story progresses more and more Carl learns that for himself.

The drive (if you’ll excuse the pun) for Carl’s endeavor of owning a food truck come from his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara). The relationship in the film is more of a “good friends” one and there’s very little contrived divorce tension to speak of in this film which was refreshing. Percy has a “talk” for him re-explaining divorce, but really it seems unnecessary and Percy doesn’t end up understanding it regardless, making the talk seem unnecessary in terms of plot.

Regardless, Inez along with her other ex-husband Martin (Robert Downey Jr.) help finance Carl’s journey to being able to creatively assert himself in the world. And that’s also where a lot of the heart of this film comes from. Carl knows what he loves and he knows what he is good at. But it isn’t a lack of skills is keeping him from it, it’s a lack of access to capital.

Sure, Carl, as a famous chef, has many followers on Twitter (once he figures out how to use it anyways) but his social capital seems to only translate into getting reality TV options. He wants a job but he doesn’t want money just for the sake of money. For Carl then, a job is something he wants to do while money is just a way to get from point A to point B.

It helps him see Percy, helps him stay in touch with Inez and his friends, helps him plan trips somewhere in the distant future when he can get time off from work, etc. But it isn’t meaningful unless he can assert his own will unto the food he prepares. That’s where the main conflict between Carl and his boss comes into play in the end, the contract and who meaningfully owns the kitchen that Carl works in. Is it his boss who paid for the restaurant, hired Carl and pays the salaries of Carl and his coworkers? Or is it Carl himself who actually makes the food, is one of the main sources of income for the restaurant and is loved by both his coworkers and customers?

This question is one of the fundamental questions of capitalism itself. Is it fair that workers don’t own the means of production? Should Carl have owned the kitchen that he himself put so much time, energy, labor and derived so much joy out of instead of his boss? Should his boss be able to renegotiate the terms at will with little regard for Carl?

Regardless of where you stand on these issues, it’s clear that Carl chooses to be his own boss. Sure, he gets Percy and his friend to come along for the ride. But in the sort of situation that they were all in there is either very clearly a boss or there isn’t much of one at all. And yes, Carl is basically treated like the boss of an establishment but among his son and his friend, it felt much more like a cooperative venture that everyone had equal say in.

That said, this isn’t a perfect anti-work movie, of course.

It’s a movie that encourages people to live their dreams, follow their passions and try to find something that makes you happy. It’s not especially groundbreaking in this concept or in its execution but the characters are solid enough and the overall production is good enough that I can still heartily recommend the film.

It may encourage us to work harder at what we love, but sometimes that isn’t always a bad thing.

And sometimes that can even bring once distant families together.

Oh, and it made me really want to cook up some eggs, scramble them and then put two each in a tortilla.

It was delicious, by the way.

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Much like a chef in a food truck, low overhead can be a great and empowering thing!


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