Chef (Movie Review)

I first watched the movie Chef while on an airplane flight. I don’t remember where I was flying to, but it must’ve been a long flight. You see, I usually don’t like watching movies on airplanes.

Why? The backseat screen is too close to your face, the picture quality is bad, and it can be hard to hear the audio over the rest of the airplane noises. Also I’m almost never comfortable in my seat, and I’m usually tired from getting up early or staying up too late packing.

I know, I know. It sounds like I’m complaining a lot. The point I’m trying to make is I usually avoid watching movies–especially ones I’m interested in–on airplanes because I don’t want the poor viewing experience to ruin my enjoyment of the film.

I’m looking for an analogy here. Can you imagine if the first time you tried drinking orange juice was right after you brushed your teeth? It would definitely not give you a great impression of orange juice. And if you’ve never experienced this before, I don’t recommend it.

Back to the Airplane Ride

So here I am, sitting in a chair flying thousands of feet above the earth at hundreds of miles an hour, and I’m tired of reading, can’t sleep, and bored enough to watch a movie.

So naturally I start tapping on the screen in the seatback in front of me, scrolling through the list of movies, skipping past a couple of well known blockbusters and some other movies that are on my list to stream or rent from Redbox.

I act like some twisted version of Goldilocks. This movie looks too good. This movie looks too bad. I’m looking for the movie that is just right. I’m looking for the movie that is not so good that I actually want to watch it, but that is also not so bad that I’ll want to turn it off.

And after going through the list of films two or three times, I finally decide on the perfect choice.


I’ve never heard of it before. It looks like an indie type of film, but one with a big enough budget to get some big name actors and actresses. Plus, it seems to be about food or cooking or something. I like watching Masterchef and Top Chef, so maybe I’ll enjoy watching some fictionalized cooking.

The First Impression

So I watched chef on the plane trip, and I remember thinking it was great.

But, because I was on a plane flying somewhere to do something important, or maybe just something that seemed important at the time, the thoughts of the movie were quickly pushed out of my head. I had no one to discuss the movie with. All I remember thinking was “I should tell my wife about this movie. Maybe we’ll watch it together. I think she might enjoy it.”

Did I ever actually mention it to my wife? Maybe. Or maybe I didn’t. Regardless, I didn’t watch or think about the movie Chef for some time.

Two Or Three (Or Four?) Years Later

I’m at the local friends of the library sale. They’ve got a ton of cheap books, but also a small selection of Blu-ray movies that only cost a dollar a piece. I’m scanning through the list of available titles, and I come across Chef. I pause.

I’ve seen this movie before. I seem to remember that it was good. But why? I can’t remember why I liked the movie, just that I liked it. Was it actually good? Was my memory playing tricks on me? What was actually good about it?

I pass over the Blu-ray and look at the other movies. I’m not sure I want to buy Chef, even for a dollar. I’ve seen it already, and I’m worried that if I buy it the movie will end up sitting around the apartment taking up space.

But that memory of it being good just won’t leave me alone. Plus I know my wife never saw it. I change my mind. I grab the movie, add it on top of my stack of other one dollar Blu-ray films, and make my way to the checkout.

The Second Viewing

Watching the movie again was like reuniting with an old friend. It filled me with warmth, and by the time it was over I didn’t understand why it had taken me so long to watch it again. Okay, that sounded really cheesy, but I did really like it on the second viewing.

I’ll try to talk about it without giving too much away because I think it is more fun to watch the movie not knowing everything that is going to happen. Not because the movie relies on twists, but because you feel like you are traveling on journey with the characters, and knowing how everything ends up spoils that journey.

In One Word

If I had to describe the movie in one word, it would be authentic. The characters and the emotions feel real and genuine.

The Main Character and Story

The movie is primarily a character driven story. It follows the struggles of renowned chef Carl Casper in his professional and personal life.

When we first meet Carl, he is working as the head chef at a restaurant, but all is not well. He is fighting his boss to inject more creativity into his restaurant menu, and struggling to have a relationship with his ten year old son.

And Carl’s life really gets thrown through a loop after a well respected restaurant critic visits Carl’s establishment to write a review.

Suffice it to say, there are a couple of plot points that are a little unbelievable, but I found myself so caught up in the characters and their interactions that I barely noticed while watching the movie.

Twitter shows up prominently in the movie on several occasions. It works well as a plot device, but perhaps it could make the movie feel a little dated in the future, depending on the long term fate of the service.

Cooking Sequences

Overall the movie has some great cinematography. The small screen on the back of the airplane definitely did not do the movie justice. Music is also used very effectively in the movie as well, with a couple of different scenes feeling like excerpts from a high quality music video.

But some of the best scenes in the movie are the cooking sequences. I must warn you not to watch this movie on an empty stomach. You’ll definitely start to get hungry.

One scene shows chef Carl Casper making a grilled cheese sandwich for his son. The care and detail the character puts into the making of this simple sandwich makes it look absolutely delicious. So delicious in fact, it inspired my wife and I to make grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner that night.

And yes, in one of the cooking sequences the main character uses high powered blenders to make some sauces.

More Thoughts

Some of the supporting characters don’t have as much depth, but the actors are all top notch. I especially loved the sequences of the main character bantering with his fellow cooks.

Which brings me to my next point, the movie is actually really funny at times. The humor is not slapstick and leans a little towards the raunchy side (the movie is rated R after all). Just like the perfect dash of salt and seasoning can really enhance the flavor of a dish, the humor adds to the movie but does not overpower it.


If you judged this movie solely on the cover of the Blu-ray, you might think it looks like a boring made for tv special about some guy who cooks. I’ll admit, I think it would be possible to take the basic plotline behind Chef, and make a really bad movie. But thanks to the high quality put into all of the aspects of the film–the characters, the dialogue, the interactions, the music, the cooking sequences–the end result is a really good movie.

And you don’t have to be interested in cooking to enjoy the movie, or the well put together scenes of chefs making food and working in restaurants.

I definitely recommend watching Chef, but in high definition–not on a tiny airplane screen.