It's a great recipe! Take a delicious, palate-tested plot. Mix in fresh, quality ingredients like sharp writing and beautiful location shots. Spice with stellar acting from a cast of seasoned professionals, among the best in the business. Chef and Le Chef (released in 2012, but only now making its way through American theaters) are cinematic feasts, elegant and tasteful.
They may not be everyone's cup of tea. Highly predictable, with elements familiar to any food channel aficionado. There are no car chases, no murders, no grisly scenes of carnage or even graphic sex scenes . . .though the sumptuous shots of food are seductively voluptuous. But both films are highly pleasing examples of how film can entertain without resorting to histrionic attempts to shock and offend.
Jon Favreau lifts Chef. He wrote, direct and stars as master chef Carl Casper, the head of a popular high end L.A. restaurant. Owner Dustin Hoffman, in a pitch perfect cameo, restricts Favreau to the popular but worn menu that pleases customers but causes Favreau and his assistant chefs John Leguizamo and Bobby Canavale to chafe. A disparaging review by food critic Oliver Platt ignites the plot. Favreau's angry response goes viral precipitating his firing. With the help of his ex-wife Sofia Vergara, her ex-ex-husband Robert Downey Jr., and Leguizamo, Favreau sets out on a journey of self-discovery and re-creation, cooking his way back across country from his Miami roots to L.A. in a popular food truck. Does he rebuild his relationship with his son? Is he re-united with his wife? No spoiler alert necessary!
Jean Reno faces the same tests in Le Chef. Reno's master chef, famous for his Michelin 3-Star restaurant and popular TV show, is threatened by his boss, the owner's son Julien Boisselier. Boisselier plots to undermine Reno to make him lose a precious star in ranking to justify his firing and convert the restaurant to what looks to be a particularly unappetizing molecular kitchen.
But young, creative chef Michael Youn to the rescue. Strong willed Youn cannot hold down a kitchen . . . or any other job for that matter. He is repeatedly fired over creative differences with owners. To support his pregnant girlfriend, Youn takes a job as a painter. But as chance and French farce would have it, he comes to the aid of Reno to modernize his menu, save his restaurant and spice up his TV shows. He even succeeds as the restaurant's new master chef, as Reno finds love and a smaller kitchen.
There may be no surprises. But Chef and Le Chef are tasteful and filling.