This past summer my daughter and her boyfriend were watching it on Netflix and I caught only a few minutes of it. That quick glance intrigued me, mostly because I could tell there would be a lot of glorious shots of food.
Last week I posted three visual clues to this movie choice. Here are the clues and why I chose them:
- This is a close-up shot of an “Everyone vs. Galactus” statue (Fantastic Four issue #243 cover) and more specifically it is a shot of Iron Man. Jon Favreau was the Executive Producer of all three Iron Man movies and Director of the first two.
- This is a lava cake. This cake is key to a series of events leading to Favreau’s character, Chef Carl Casper making a life-changing career switch.
- This life-changing career switch involves Casper starting a food truck selling authentic, Cuban cuisine, the most prominent of which are Cubano sandwiches.
Let’s nutshell it: Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a renowned chef with a loyal crew (John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale) at an upscale L.A. restaurant. Though talented and creative he is boxed in by the owner (Dustin Hoffman) who wants to stick with the tried and true menu. A scathing review of Casper’s food by a well-known food blogger (Oliver Platt) leads to a very public throwdown on Twitter, and the feud explodes in the restaurant. Lava cakes are flung and the chef storms out. Unsure of his future, Casper grudgingly accepts his ex-wife’s (Sofía Vergara) ex-husband’s (Robert Downey Jr.) assistance to start a food truck, pouring his heart and soul into Cuban cuisine: Cubano sandwiches, tostones and yuca fries. He embarks on a journey from Miami to L.A. with his son and best friend in tow, reconnecting with his family and reinventing himself.
It is a star-studded cast, as you can see! For his role, Favreau trained with restaurateur Roy Choi, who was the principal chef for the Kogi Korean BBQ food truck in Los Angeles. Choi was a consultant on Chef and oversaw all the dishes chosen for the movie.
I had fun with this movie and quickly realized that it was not because of the characters or plot. I was hypnotized the food. I was geekily entranced by the shopping trips to outdoor food markets and deft knife skills on display. A trip to a restaurant supply store for a plancha grill and knives. A sheet of glassy, brittle, amber caramel shattered with a strike from a knife handle, then pounded into a shimmering powder for macerated berries and fresh whipped cream. About a third of the way through the movie, remembering that not everyone feels orgasmic when presented with a plate of Spaghetti Aglio Et Olio, I offered an out to my husband. He had sweetly agreed to watch it with me as a sort of date night opportunity. He bravely demurred, saying we would “tough it out” together. Only it wasn’t all that tough for me.
That is because this is really a movie for foodies, or if you don’t like to call yourself a foodie then food-lovers. As my husband stated (and as he’s sure to point out in HIS review of this movie) there is no character arc, and really no three-act structure. My husband is a movie guy, and he loves the arcs, and the classic structure of conflicts and resolutions. Though there is a set-up and a resolution, there is not much by way of serious conflict or confrontation. He was baffled by the anti-arc of Chef.
You may find though, if you love food enough, that you just don’t care about the arc. When Casper’s food truck pulls into Austin and he shakes hands with barbecue master Aaron Franklin, it is crystal clear for whom this movie was intended. (There is an awkward moment when Casper, his friend and son are moaning and groaning while eating the smoked meat… and Franklin just sits at the picnic table watching them!) My husband was impressed that I knew who Franklin was. Or maybe he was just being polite. Again I gave him the opportunity to bow out, but he refused. At this point in the movie he was driven by a giddy, almost nefarious desire to see it movie to the end, if for nothing else to be able to skewer it in his review.
What I loved in this movie was the food truck journey through Miami, New Orleans, Austin and back to L.A. I enjoyed seeing yellow mustard carefully slathered across freshly sliced Cubano rolls, the sandwiches assembled with precision. Dough for beignets rapidly flung into hot oil. Powdered sugar raining down over those freshly fried beignets. A knife tenderly slicing through a darkened slab of Franklin Barbecue brisket.
I also had a lot of fun hunting down the soundtrack tunes on YouTube, and I strained the patience of my household by playing them often for about two weeks. The songs are vibrant, and make excellent background music for the cooking.
Inspired by the movie, I made my own version of a lava cake. Reading through various online write-ups about Chef, I saw lava cakes referred to as “dreaded”, “clichéd” and “soul-crushing”. Yikes! Well, in the world of professional chefs and hi-end restaurants lava cakes may be all these things. The words I had for my cakes are rich, moist and extravagant. Also, this word: devoured.
In the movie Casper rails against the blogger who referred to lava cakes as having undercooked centers. Casper corrects him, saying that portions of frozen ganache are placed in the centers of the cakes before baking. The ganache thaws and melts, becoming lava-like just before serving. So, I made ganache centers for my lava cakes. Although not molten the ganache softened, and was the irresistible, fudgy heart of these cakes.
*No souls were crushed in the making of these cakes.
(Cake recipe adapted from The Baker's Manual by Amendola/Rees)
- 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons peanut butter
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, unbleached
- 1/3 cup unsweetened double-Dutch cocoa
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup butter, unsalted
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup brewed coffee, cooled
- 1/2 cup milk
- Confectioner's sugar for dusting
Place the chocolate into a medium heat-proof bowl.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, bring the heavy cream just to a simmer. Stir in the peanut butter until it is smooth.
Pour the cream-peanut butter mixture over the chocolate in the bowl. Let it sit for 5 to 7 minutes until the chocolate has softened. Stir the chocolate and cream together until they are thoroughly combined.
Cover the bowl and place in the freezer for one hour until the ganache is very firm.
Once firm, scoop eight generous teaspoonfuls of ganache, pat them quickly into balls and place on a plate or tray lined with parchment paper. cover the tray lightly with plastic wrap and place in the freezer.
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly grease eight wells in a muffin pan.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the egg, vanilla and cooled coffee until mixed together.
Add in milk and the dry mixture alternating in three to four additions until just combined.
Pour a little batter into each prepared muffin well. Remove the ganache from the freezer and place one ball into each well. Divide the remaining batter between the eight wells.
Bake the cakes for about 15 minutes until the cakes are firm to the touch. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack for ten minutes.
Carefully tip the cakes onto individual serving plates. Dust each with confectioner's sugar and serve immediately.
Store leftover cakes tightly wrapped for up to four days.
Here are the participants of the February edition of the Mock Squid Soup Film Society. Please visit them and weigh in on their movie choices! (Including my husband‘s perspective on Chef!
6. Scouring Monk