I went to see Chef, Jon Favreau’s new movie, last weekend. What would be the culinary equivalent of a ratings system — two thumbprint cookies up? How ’bout four-star anise, rather than 4 stars?
OK, this is clearly not my strong suit! Good thing I don’t do reviews of either restaurants or movies.
But the movie is very good; I stayed awake, which is my personal version of a rousing endorsement. It’s part buddy movie, part travelogue, part coming-of-age story, part love story ... a little pinch of everything.
Chef recognizes trends, such as food trucks, Latin cuisine, updated classics, and the snout-to-tail movement dedicated to not wasting any part of an animal. It pays homage to the food Mecca that is New Orleans. Lucky Peach, the oh, so cool magazine which won five prizes at last month’s James Beard Awards (often called “the Oscars of the food world”) is a well-placed background detail in one scene.
Members of the cast were taught the proper techniques that are utilized by real chefs, enhancing the sense of being immersed in the world of cooks and kitchens.
And then there was the food. Can one talk about food porn, and subsequent longing and desire, in a family newspaper? Sizzling, seductive, both sensuous and sensual. The food scenes, whether showing decadent chocolate cake or freshly fried beignets, gooey melted cheese or the simplest spaghetti, will lead you into temptation.
I left the theater happy, having enjoyed my two hours of escapism. I left the theater wanting to dance, as the soundtrack features fabulous funk, blues, and Latin tunes.
Mostly, though, I left the theater wanting to cook. And wanting to cook for myself.
Most of the time, I want to cook for others, to share my love through food. I want to tempt, to please, to sustain, to nourish — in body and spirit — my loved ones. And that means catering to their likes and dislikes, their wants and needs.
But sometimes, too, I just want to cook for myself even if I’m feeding others.
I want to spice things up with a zesty hot sausage, not a tame mild one. I want to saute in just a touch of bacon drippings, not cholesterol-conscious butter substitutes. I don’t want to add walnuts to every baked good or not be able to add peas to pasta. I want to serve something fragrant and exotic, not something that starts with a box of rice and a spice mix. I want to serve dishes filled with gorgeous vegetables rather than making chicken the focus of the meal. I just want to cook, and to cook what inspires me. Sometimes.
In the movie, Favreau’s character, Chef Carl, plans a meal to impress a critic ... at least, that’s the premise. I won’t spoil the plot by telling you why he doesn’t prepare it as planned; but he does ultimately prepare the dishes at home. He does so for himself, both because he’s alone that evening but also to prove his abilities. He is also, at one point, invited to make a dish for Scarlett Johansson. One might think he’s cooking for her in an effort to seduce her, but he’s also cooking for himself again. He’s showing off, the equivalent of flashing beautifully colored tail feathers. He’s exposing himself, almost, through his tastes, his offering, what he serves to her.
So, while it’s no fun to eat alone, it’s so much fun to cook without anyone else’s whims to consider — to make it my way (with all due respect to Frank Sinatra or, to those of my generation, Sid Vicious).
Most of the time, it’s perfectly alright to indulge my loved ones; it makes me happy to make them happy.
But sometimes, I just want to be let loose in the kitchen with time, with ingredients, with someone else to do the dishes, and with abandon.
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