One of my favorite classes I had in college, and one of my favorites in any level of schooling, was my communications class focused on media and journalism. Not only did I enjoy the writing and speaking, two things I love and get paid and not paid to do, but the entire focus of our class revolved around reporting and studying food. We watched and wrote papers on documentaries centered on food, we read novels with food as a significant part or symbol, and our final projects were to interview and present a local food establishment and the significance of that food to the area, the business owners, and the people who buy it. One big takeaway from that class was the significance of food has to our memories, our lives, and our relationships. Making food, eating food, and eating food together is a joy and a ritual of love and relationship.
I am fairly confident that if the movie Chef had been around when I took this class that it would be one of the movies we would watch. When Carl Casper (Jon Favreau), a well-known, high profile chef at a Los Angeles restaurant, has a high profile critic coming to his restaurant, he is excited by the opportunity to wow him and cement his place among the top echelon of chefs. The resulting conflicts with the owner of the restaurant and the critic change his focus and direction and he goes across the country with his ex-wife and son to start a new food truck business selling a family favorite, Cubano sandwiches from their hometown of Miami. What results is a fun and light-hearted re-discovery of the joy and love her has of food and passing that legacy to his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony).
More than any other aspect of the movie, Jon Favreau (lead actor, writer, director, and producer of the movie) captures what a joy it is to make food as well as to eat it. But not only that, it isn’t about the food, its about the relationships and love food both creates and facilitates in our every day lives. Carl, at one pivotal moment in the movie, says to his son that he might not be the best dad or the best husband, but he loves to cook and he is good at it, and he wants to pass that love and skill on to him. Percy and Karl finally begin to bond and grow in love for each other when the mutual passion of cooking and preparing food is shared. When we cook for others or eat together there is a relational and almost spiritual connection that forms.
There is even a great little scene that implies a romantic relationship between Carl and the head waitress at his LA restaurant Molly, played by Scarlett Johansson, but it is only implied through one quick beat and Carl making her a meal. Love and intimacy is exchanged through the medium of food and it is so well done in this movie through shots of the tactile nature of all stages of eating. From the sound of a knife coming out of the sheath, to the sizzle of the grill and that first crispy bite of sandwich, your senses come alive in these moments. No wonder food commands such poignant memories; every moment is so sensory rich, it is like the warm and happy feelings we get around those we love.
Chef is such an incredibly fun movie. While the movie lacks a final third of sorts (its more like a tonal shift than an actual act), and ends in a little bit of a cheesy fashion (but everyone I know in Wisconsin likes a little cheese on everything), the real focus is food and the relationships it forges and reinforces. It will also make you so incredibly hungry that you will inevitably want one of those sandwiches or a real nice slab of pork. If you love food, and who doesn’t, this movie will make you smile and make you salivate. It’s definitely worth watching this weekend and on a full stomach.
Josh Crabb (@HeyItsThatJosh) is an editor, writer, and sometimes talker for Reel World Theology. He has been married to Tina for 9 1/2 years and has four amazing children. He is also a pastor at Appleton Gospel in Appleton, WI and church planter for the EFCA planting in Neenah, WI.