The way Jon Favreau sees it, the world is divided into people who are interested in food, and people who aren’t.
“And I,” he declares, “am a member of the former category.”
That will be obvious to anyone who watches his new film, “Chef.” Favreau wrote, directed and stars in the movie, which displays food in a luxurious, almost religious way.
Even a simple grilled cheese sandwich, meticulously prepared by a father for his young son, is almost too delicious to look at. Which is what Favreau was going for.
“There’s something hypnotic to me when I watch food being prepared on a cooking show, or in ‘Eat Drink Man Woman,’ ” he says, referring to the 1994 Ang Lee foodie classic. “There’s something incredibly compelling and cinematic about it. And it’s amazing that it can actually make your mouth water.”
“Chef” comes down to a simple dish: the Cuban sandwich.
Carl Casper (Favreau) is a gifted but volatile chef at a swank Los Angeles restaurant. His boss (Dustin Hoffman), orders him to play it safe on the very night a major food critic is coming. Reluctantly, he does, and predictably gets excoriated by the critic.
Things go downhill, and Casper is fired. He rebuilds his life by going back to basics: sprucing up a filthy old truck and turning it into a temple for the perfect Cuban sandwich.
There’s a popular view that Casper the chef is really Favreau the director, and the risk-averse restaurant owner a big studio honcho – and “Chef,” an independent film, the food truck. Favreau, who directed the “Iron Man” films, says that’s only partly true. He actually loves both genres.
It’s clear “Chef” is a labor of love for Favreau, who confesses that he was so inspired during filming, he’s installing a full commercial kitchen in his home, including a wood-burning pizza oven and a flat-top grill.
Still, making food work at home is different than making it work onscreen. How do you do that?
“I learned a lot about photography and sound design,” he says. “It’s partly about the music. Part of it is the lighting, and part is the way you color-time it,” he says, referring to the process of adjusting the colors of a shot. “A slight change in color can make something look nauseating.”
Noted LA chef Roy Choi was the food consultant, on set every day.
“If you do a commercial, the food gets sprayed with glycerin and then gets thrown away,” Favreau says. “But when you’re dealing with a chef, it’s about honoring the food. And so everything we cooked we served up afterward. When we broke down a pig, we parceled it up and sent it home with the crew.”
There was also serious training involved. John Leguizamo, who plays Casper’s buddy and line cook, spent a month at a Manhattan restaurant.
“It was hard, man,” Leguizamo says. “So many sharp objects, hot burning items – you make the wrong move, somebody’s gonna get hurt.”