Loop Food Writer Morris Gut has a personal connection to the new film, Chef:
It was Mama Favreau who fed me some of my first homemade Italian food. My pal Jon and I would take a break from hanging in the neighborhood and often found myself going back to his apartment where Mama always seemed to have some pots simmering on the stove. She would sit us down at the kitchen table and fill our bowls with the most delicious meals.
The Favreau family lived across the street from my apartment building on Pelham Parkway in the Bronx. Jon became my good friend thru many formative years. We did all kinds of things together both good and bad. We were still growing up, after all. But we always came thru and later managed to marry, have children and grandchildren to cherish. Jon now lives in Putnam County and we still keep in touch.
Jon’s older brother Charles ‘Chuck’ Favreau married another Pelham Parkway girl Madeleine and moved out to Queens. We still saw a lot of each other as the years past, often visiting their apartment near Rego Park. They were both teachers. I spent a couple of summers working as a counselor at the day camp they ran. Along the way they had a baby and he was named Jon Favreau, after his favorite uncle, my friend Jon.
I remember taking summer road trips with Jon stopping in Newport , RI one time and cooking fresh caught fish right on the pier along Ocean Drive. We would polish off a box of doughnuts for dessert, then lie out on the beach under the stars and sleep thru the night. It was ok back in those days. No one chased you away. Then we drove off to New Hampshire where ‘Chuck’ Favreau and his family rented a country house. I remember us taking nephew Jon down to the nearby lake and teaching him how to fish.
We enjoyed camping in the Catskills and fly fishing for trout in the Beaverkill River waders and all. The trout would stare at us from the water, perhaps mocking us, but sometimes we got lucky and caught a few. We would return to the tent to clean and saute them up at the peak of freshness. At dusk cleaning the pots and pans at the riverside near our campsite was always a trip: the bats would be out in force and one of us had to keep banging a pot and pan together to make them fly off. They may be blind critters but they are not deaf. So as you can see, our gastronautics were still at an early stage, still evolving.
As the years went by Jon’s young nephew Jon grew to become a talented comedian, screenwriter, actor, director and producer. His first break out film was ‘Swingers’ back in 1996. In one of the early scenes, Mama Favreau is cast as a gambler at the Black Jack table. As I watched that scene with my daughter out at UCLA at the time, I recalled Mama Favreau feeding us at her kitchen table.
Jon also created and appeared in such films as ‘Made’ and ‘Elf’(which has already become an iconic Christmas movie), Cowboys & Aliens and Zathura the fantasy. After major success as director of two blockbuster ‘Iron Man’ films, and while appearing in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, he played DeCaprio’s attorney, he was already conjuring the idea of “Chef”, the movie. He had always had a passion for the food scene. Some may remember his ‘Dinner for Five’ series on IFC. And he assembled a stellar cast to appear in it.
Chef, the movie? I first heard about it last summer while I was on a foodie trip to Charleston, SC. My daughter texted me while she was vacationing in L.A. saying they accidently ran into Jon while on a shoot for the Chef movie in Santa Monica. She inquired of the staff, and it was so sweet of Jon to come out of his workday and reminisce. He confided that the film would be released the following May, and it was. It is playing in greater Westchester right now including the Larchmont Playhouse and Jacob Burns in Pleasantville.
Young Jon plays a top chef in L.A. named Carl Casper who works at a highly popular restaurant (the owner is played by Dustin Hoffman), who receives an unkind review from a major restaurant critic appropriately named Ramsey Michel, played by Oliver Platt (I could have played that role!). By the way, Platt’s real life brother is Adam Platt, restaurant critic for New York Magazine. He takes the bad review to heart and after losing a messy battle over his creative integrity with his boss over changing certain dishes on the menu, he quits. In the meantime, the grueling hours he had put in the kitchen had also taken its toll on his family, his wife and young son. It is a comeback story of sorts seasoned with happiness and sadness, sprinkled with a good dose of laughter.
In the film Jon makes a decisive career move. He is offered an old beat up rusted food truck that had been sitting in a garage in Miami, and decides to restore it and take it for a major life altering road trip back to California. He is joined by his son played in beautiful understated fashion by Emjay Anthony, and his former sous chef from the L.A. restaurant who also decided to pack it in and join Jon on his trek, played by actor John Leguizamo. Their food truck is named: “El Jefe”, and their journey takes them to such iconic food destinations as Little Havana in Miami; New Orleans, LA.; Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, Texas then back to California. Along the way, Chef Carl Casper reignites his passion for the kitchen, and zest for life and love. And I admit my mouth was watering throughout.
In making the film Jon enlisted Roy Choi of L.A.’s Kogi BBQ Taco Truck fame to help train him for his role. Choi made a big name for himself and legions of fans with his innovative Korean/Mexican fusion dishes. He also appears in the film, along with Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Bobby Cannavale and Amy Sedaris.
I enjoyed the film very much. Chef, the movie, plays right in to my own ongoing love affair with food and all things culinary. And the storyline plays right into current culinary trends. If you are a gastronaut , I recommend you go see it. It has heart and a palate and it will take you for a very tasty ride.
Morris Gut is a restaurant consultant based in New Rochelle and former restaurant trade magazine editor. He has been tracking and writing about the food and dining scene in greater Westchester for over 25 years: firstname.lastname@example.org