With the popularity of "Babette's Feast," "Eat Drink Man Woman," "Big Night" and "Ratatouille," foodie films are becoming a savory genre unto themselves. Add this to the list.
When celebrated Los Angeles chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) infuriates his banal, conservative restaurateur boss (Dustin Hoffman) by confronting a crotchety food critic, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), and their snide Twitter and YouTube rant goes viral, it becomes obvious that Carl needs a culinary change. Unexpectedly, that comes in the form of an invitation from his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) to join her and their social media-savvy 10-year-old son Percy (Emjay Anthony) on a trip to Miami, his hometown. That's where he acquires a battered, second-hand food truck from Inez's eccentric entrepreneurial first husband, Marvin (scene-stealing Robert Downey Jr.).
Teaming up with his Hispanic line cook Martin (John Leguizamo) and Percy, Carl dubs his renovated truck "El Jefe" and takes scrumptious Cubano cuisine on the road, heading on a poignant, redemptive trip back to the West Coast, including extended stops in New Orleans and Austin, Texas.
Writer/director/producer/actor Favreau ("Iron Man," "Swingers") says he was inspired by guest starring on TV's "Top Chef," where he discovered how the professional chefs analyze food, recalling a scene in "Ratatouille" where one sees the flavors. He then spent six weeks training with L.A.-based chef Roy Choi, including a stint on one of Choi's Kogi BBQ trucks. Indeed, you can glimpse Choi teaching Favreau during the final credits. As a result, Favreau aces the atmosphere of a working kitchen, although few real-life chefs have love interests played by Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara and a persistent publicist like Amy Sedaris. FYI: If Oliver Platt's characterization rings true, it may be because his real-life brother, Adam Platt, is New York magazine's food critic. Adding more spice, the swinging sound track, assembled by music supervisor Mathieu Schreyer, encompasses soul, salsa and country -- with a Latin-infused beat.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Chef" is a succulent, sweetly simmering 7. It's appetizing amusement.