Like the familiar aromas of home cooking, there are moments in the new Jon Favreau film “Chef” that will resonate with anyone who has worked in a professional kitchen.
First, there are the frustrations of a successful chef (Favreau) who is forced to cook his greatest culinary hits by an overbearing restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) while his relationships with his son (Emjay Anthony), ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) and potential girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson) crumble. Then there is the career skid as Favreau attempts to rebuild his cooking life on a food truck that specializes in Cuban sandwiches.
Favreau, who also wrote and directed “Chef,” which opens today, hired street food master Roy Choi as a technical adviser.
Choi, owner of the Kogi BBQ Taco Truck in Los Angeles and winner of Food & Wine magazine's 2010 Best New Chef award, pioneered the concept of gourmet street food by using social media to promote his Kogi truck's appearances. Favreau's character uses similar techniques in “Chef.”
Before shooting the film, Favreau prepared by working incognito on the Kogi truck. Once filming began, Choi was on set showing the actors how to plate food, chop vegetables, handle pots and saute pans and use chef knives correctly. And use salty language.
During a recent interview by phone from Los Angeles, Choi talked about his contributions to the film:
Q: Did you consult on Favreau's chef tattoos at all?
Answer: This is A-list Hollywood. They had the best of the best there. His makeup artist and art team, they had it all laid out and then showed me. He really wanted my opinion on it, but I loved them. He got it right.
Q: The forearm tat of the chef's knife was a nice touch. So was the horizontal burn mark on the forearm.
Answer: Everything Jon does. ... He's picking up on everything. Nothing goes over a blind eye. When he's preparing for a role, he's being a sponge. He saw burns on all the cooks and everything, so that was a little audible on his part (to include that detail).
Q: How did it happen that his character operated a Cuban sandwich truck?
Answer: That was all Jon. I think it came from him spending time in Miami filming “Iron Man 3.” He went out to Little Havana with Robert Downey Jr. (whose character in the film bankrolls the truck). It just became something that really marked the place as he wrote the script. It was a seed that was planted while he was writing.
Q: Is there a detail in the script that you changed?
Answer: In the script, (Favreau's character) was going to the farmers market in his chef's coat, smelling the vegetables. That was the one thing I said, “Yo, man, you're not going to do that.” (Instead) he went in his civvies and walked straight to the vegetables with no small talk, saying, “I want this. I want that.”
We looked at every take. Every single take, every single shot, we looked at those exact details. Are you holding the knife right? Are the containers right. Jon? Don't go left, go right. Move your arm a little. Go side to side. Those kinds of things.
Even more in the editing room, we would take the finest detail, like, is your elbow too high? We would pick the right one.
Q: I thought the most believable thing was that not only would an acclaimed chef would have Sofia Vergara as an ex-wife but also Scarlett Johannson as a possible girlfriend.
Answer: Oh, you know chefs do it. We cook, man. It don't matter how we look.