‘Chef’ doesn’t mean that you’re the best cook, it simply means ‘boss.’

— Tom Colicchio

In the past 10 years, once upon a time comedy actor Jon Favreau has gained 187 lbs and a reputation as the go to producer and director. He has come a long way from “Made” and “Swingers.” Jon zoomed up to an A-list producer in Hollywood with the “Iron Man” trio, and the inexplicable “Cowboys and Alien,” which was a great idea that just didn’t make it into orbit.

With 19 mostly TV directorial credits behind him, Jon steps out now with “Chef,” the story of Carl Casper, the bigger-than-life top-dog chef of a notable Los Angeles restaurant owned by the imperious Riva, (Dustin Hoffman, one of many sparkling cameos) an obnoxious egotist whose prime rules are “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and “always give the customer what he wants.” Did I mention “My way or the highway?”

Carl works like a mob boss with his own crew, the kitchen gang that came up with him from a long line of Ruby Tuesdays: Martin (John Leguizamo,) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale) and Carl’s bartender and wannabe girlfriend, a semi disguised raven haired, soft lipped Scarlett Johansson. These three guys chopping and stirring in the same kitchen is the funniest fast-talking team since the Marx Brothers.

Our Scarlett has little to do but softly simmer on the back burners. She wants to be Mrs. Casper of course, but the ex-wife (a soft-pedaled Sofia Vergara) who is sharing their son Percy, a sweet and charming techie genius, (a wonderful Emjay Anthony) still has a firm grip on Carl’s heart. In fact, they are so gentle with one another we wonder why they got divorced. Well, when you watch Carl in his kitchen, you kinda know.

So Carl, a master chef who has worked his way up with his friend from a dump called “Hell’s Kitchen,” is forced to give the public what Hoffman has been giving them for years. It’s “American,” well prepared and served, but the menu has long been memorized by the customers and they’re bored.

Hoffman points out of the kitchen window “Look at them out there eating, they’re happy eaters, you know why? We give them what they want.”

Carl wants to give them what HE wants, to break them out of their cages and introduce them to the nouveau cuisine by Casper.

The movie opens on a special night when Ramsey Michel, the most prestigious food critic in Los Angeles (a low-keyed and wasted Oliver Platt) is coming by. Carl wants to dazzle him, but Dustin says stick to the script or get out. Ramsey, a vicious snob, not only turns his nose up but delightfully tweets his deadly pan to his online fans.

Carl, knowing nothing about social media, snatches his son’s iPhone, and blows his top in a four letter reply to the critic. When it goes viral in a YouTube sensation with thousands of hits, Carl is fired and drops out back to culinary nowhere.

But ex-wife Inez, who still loves him, talks him into going to Miami and accepting an offer from her FIRST ex-husband, (Robert Downey Jr., in another pal/cameo) an eccentric entrepreneur. Downey, who wears plastic covers on his shoes, lends Carl cash and offers him a free run-down food wagon, one that may have served tacos to Pancho Villa’s crew in the Mexican revolution. Carl accepts and with the help of his biggest fans, his son Percy and pal Martin, turns it into a Cubano sandwich wagon and heads back to Los Angeles. En route, with food and fabulous music stops in New Orleans and Texas, young Percy takes his iPhone in hand and tweets the new biz into a YouTube sensation.

Yes. It’s romantic, three amigo laughs, and full of soft serve father/son heart tugs. Without the talent of this cast, “Chef” might have wound up as an HBO summer fun comedy, but it’s Favreau’s legendary chutzpah, directorial skills and the comedic gifts of two Broadway and movie pros, Leguizamo and Cannavale, not to mention a heart rocking and foot pounding Cuban jazz score in every scene, that make “Chef” bubble up on all eight burners.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.


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