It’s hard not to like a movie that demonstrates how to grill a cheese sandwich perfectly. The story, of an accomplished chef who meets his nemesis in a food critic who pans his menu, tells how he gets his reputation back. More interesting are the locations, the food trucks, the kitchen staff.
When Chef tries to change the critic’s mind by creating a new brilliant menu, and is stymied by the restaurant owner’s demand to keep customers with the tried and true fare, he is fired for challenging everyone and cursing out the critic which is filmed and posted online (it goes viral).
Chef’s son is a charming little techno-genius who knows how to create a movie, tweet the right stuff at the right time, etc. Chef is the opposite of this, but it strains credibility when he doesn’t know what will happen when he calls the critic a dirty word online. This gives an opportunity for Amy Sedaris to counsel him as a public relations expert in a very funny bit. These cameos by actors (there is a gem by Robert Downey, Jr) really help the movie overcome its extreme sentimentality.
Relationships mean everything in this movie, for example, John Leguizamo, who plays the sous chef, suddenly turns up when the new venture is selling cubanos from a food truck. There is a very touching scene where Chef buys his son his first chef knife, explaining the importance of keeping it sharp and clean.
It tells you how much authority food trucks have gained lately that a chef would just strike off and establish himself all over again doing that kind of cooking. Wouldn’t a real chef get bored cooking the same sandwich over and over again? If creating the same menu over and over again was boring, how boring could this be?
Something about the boy and his father getting to know each makes this movie work. Even though it dodges the difficult questions of how the trip is paid for, and how the glamorous mother makes her living (what is her work? she looks made up for a photo shoot, and my companion guessed that she was a fashion model) and why she is so supportive of her ex husband, I was carried by several very positive things: the excellent cast, the beautiful shots of cooking, and the camaraderie between the boy and his dad. It is a sentimental movie with an unbelievable ending, but up until that point, I was willing to suspend disbelief just to be able to see more shots of beautifully cooked food.