Chef: Cooking up Passion

By Gwen Sellers

Last weekend I saw Chef, a movie written and directed by Jon Favreau, who is also its star. I was thoroughly impressed. The plot is relatively simple. A famous food critic and blogger writes a negative review of Chef Carl Casper after eating the standard menu at the restaurant where the chef works. The reviewer had high hopes for Casper as he'd eaten his creative food ten years earlier, but it is evident the chef is now cooking cautiously. In fact, the chef recognizes the restaurant menu is in a "creative rut," and has tried multiple times to introduce new foods, but the restaurant owner will not allow him to change the menu. The negative review goes viral on Twitter. Casper, unfamiliar with social media, asks his son to sign him up for a Twitter account and mistakenly belittles the critic publicly. Twitter accounts explode. And finally chef Casper invites the critic for another tasting. With a fully-booked house, the owner refuses, again, to change the menu. Casper quits and the sous-chef cooks the standard menu. The critic is unaware of all the behind-the-scenes activity so is a bit shocked when Casper walks in during dessert and starts yelling at him about how hard chefs work to make patrons happy, how the critics just eat and criticize, how painful the review was, etc. The video goes viral on YouTube. Now Casper is unemployable and quite obviously "having a very bad week." Meanwhile, Casper is also struggling in his relationship with his son. Ten-year-old Percy lives with his wealthy mother but craves time with his father. He wants to be part of his father's life, to do things together, and to not always have to wait around for Casper to show up when promised. Inez (played by Sofia Vergara), the ex-wife, invites Casper to go to Miami with her and Percy to take care of the boy while she works. She has been saying for years that Casper should open his own food truck; and in Miami she sets Casper up with her previous ex-husband, an eccentric man (played by Robert Downey Jr.) who gives Casper a food truck. Casper's former kitchen assistant, Martin (played by John Leguizamo), who was promoted to sous-chef at the original restaurant, hops a plane and comes to Miami to help. What ensues is basically a road trip on the food truck from Miami to Los Angeles featuring artistic displays of local foods and culture.

The real gem is found in watching Casper re-discover his passion and enjoy the simplicity of true-to-life relationships. There are fights and apologies, tender moments, funny moments, awkward moments, all the things we experience in our real lives with the people we interact with. The relationship between father and son is especially poignant. After some discussion, Percy joins Martin and Casper on the truck. At first unbeknownst to Casper and Martin, Percy keeps up Casper's Twitter account, also adding Facebook and Vine, and draws large crowds everywhere they go. But what the boy loves most is being invited into the kitchen. He becomes a crucial member of the team — not only the marketing genius, but a line cook learning from his dad. And he even gets to spend time with his dad unrelated to work — he gets to be a son.

It was a delight to watch the characters develop and to watch relationships heal in a way that is true to reality. For instance, as they near Los Angeles, Casper warns Percy that things are not going to be as good back at home. This was a special trip, but things will probably return to normal. Casper is attempting to warn his son of pending disappointment so as not to blind-side the boy. How often do we think the good times are the rarity and life must go "back to normal" so we prepare ourselves for disappointment? There was a happy ending, of course. Things return to "normal" for maybe an hour, but then Casper realizes it doesn't have to be that way. Though the end is perhaps a bit unrealistic, it seems plausible.

Chef was fun as a movie and had some striking artistic elements. So as not to unwittingly give endorsement to a movie that contains some morally objectionable components, I should mention that there were some places with excess crude language, crude jokes, and sexual innuendo. For a movie review that includes more of the moral elements of this film, please see PluggedIn's review.

What I most appreciated about the movie was the way it invited me to contemplate life. Casper is a man whose dreams have been crushed. He has become self-focused, desperately trying to figure things out to somehow make life work. What he really needs is to get back in touch with his passion. Doing so brings him a sense of joy and freedom that allows him to reconnect with who he is. And, subsequently, to reconnect with his family. He finds out that what matters is doing what he loves — cooking good food to share with the masses — and being in actual relationship with those he loves. He learns to slow down and enjoy the present. Obviously the movie presents this as a godless message. But I think much of its lesson is found in Scripture.

Chef Casper was working for someone else trying to fit into a mold into which he did not belong. The restaurant owner wanted to make money, so he stuck by the old favorites that would keep customers coming back. Casper wanted to make food that would bring people delight. Despite hearing from multiple friends that he should go it alone, Casper was afraid to step out. He denied his own gifting and passion in order to stay safe. In doing so, he lost himself. And in losing himself, he hurt those he loved.

All too often, I am tempted to fit into the mold of what others tell me I should desire or tell me I should be doing. No. Let's be honest here. Sometimes I am simply too afraid to live out the uniqueness that God has placed in me so I look to others to provide a mold in which to fit. Somehow it seems safer. But it kills the spirit. Casper could have continued suppressing his creativity, cooking the same old menu. He would have kept his job. But he would not have been Chef Carl Casper. As the restaurant owner pointed out, he could hire any chef to cook the menu. Casper needed to step outside of his safety zone in order to be the fullness of himself. The movie made it about creativity and artistry. God makes it about intentional, intricate, loving design. God created you — yes, you — in a specific way and for a specific purpose. No one can replace you. You are the only you there ever was or ever will be. Don't you want to know who that person is? Don't you want to be that person? The creator of the universe didn't use a cookie cutter. He crafted you uniquely, with a purpose in mind (Psalm 139; Jeremiah 1:5; Jeremiah 29:11; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 1:6; John 17:20-26; 1 Corinthians 13:9-12). Breathtaking!

And, yes, you are breathtaking. Each of us is. When we live out of the fullness of who God has made us to be, we exude life. He is the giver and author of life. And when we live the way He created us to, we glorify Him.

TagsChristian-Life  |  Depression  |  Hardships  |  Reviews-Critiques

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Published 7-7-14