My attempt to watch 365 movies in 2015 is still going strong! I’ve watched a little bit of everything at this point, but of course, the ones that are relevant to this blog are the food-focused films. I love a nice foodie film, but I adore a foodie film in French. I really just like hearing them talk. So, in an effort to watch a film about food and fangirl a little bit over the French, I queued up Le Chef on Netflix.
With Jean Reno headlining, I went in with high hopes. As Alexandre Lagarde, the chef who clings to his method like a life raft, Reno humorously captures a food era that people either deride or nostalgically praise. The food isn’t bad, but he’s been serving up the same dishes for decades; in this current world of innovation, foams, and small plates, this won’t fly. Still, he doesn’t want to completely change because he knows his customers and he’s passionate about what he puts out. People who come from old money dine here, so hipsters and food snobs who worship Wylie Dufresne need not apply.
If Alexandre represents old school cookery, Jacky Bonnot is the man who idolizes that time. He’s like a Led Zeppelin fan born in 1985, filled with nostalgia for a time he didn’t even get to enjoy. Food is taken even more seriously with this young gun. Heaven forbid a lamb is overcooked (a horror I completely understand)! Don’t change a recipe you know works! Perfect your dish, and then don’t let anyone ruin it! The movie illustrates the passion behind food while also poking fun at people like Jacky.
This is a movie filled with extremes, and the newer style of cooking is found everywhere. Alexandre is considered a dinosaur well past his prime and Jacky clings to a style that should be forgotten, but others want something with more flash. Leading the charge is the manager of the restaurant, Stanislas Matter. Not a film to do anything with subtlety, he is the clear villain. To back him up, the new chef Stanislas wants hire serves as his henchman. For these guys, the only real food is molecular food. Alexandre is a washed-up joke who needs to be ousted. Nothing could convince them otherwise, which only helps strengthen the two opposing sides throughout the film.
The biggest pitfall of is a cringe-worthy scene where the two main characters dress up as Asians and sneak into a competitor’s restaurant. Stereotypes and insults abound throughout the scene, and even discounting that it isn’t funny. It plays out similar to every other typical “let’s sneak in somewhere and get intel” movie. They sneak in; they make fools of themselves; they almost get caught; rise and repeat. Going down as smoothly as a stale baguette, this entire scene is superfluous and dull. Easily the lowest point, it brings down an otherwise silly film.
Besides wishing that the whole Asian scene had been nixed, my other qualm about this film is the lack of food shots. I didn’t need half the film to be filled with food porn that would make HBO execs blush, but I would have enjoyed a few mouthwatering images. The food really only takes center stage when it is made fun of. Duck that tastes like bubblegum and food that should never have been created are the shots that we get, leaving me wanting less of that and more real food. It’s a small bone to pick, but it’s one that nevertheless stood out to me. With movies like Chef and TV shows that use precious screen time to relay shots of bubbling broths and gooey cheeses, I’ve been spoiled, and I intend to keep it that way.
Before you go ahead and add this to your Netflix queue, let me be clear: there is no message. That does not necessarily make the movie inherently good or bad, it’s just a statement of fact. It isn’t some caterpillar that transforms into a butterfly or a heavyweight bull throwing its weight around, it’s a puppy with whom to play. Once I reached the end I asked myself a series of questions: Are they advocating the old school method? Is tradition supposed to be good? Should there be a balance between duck confit and plates put together with tweezers? I have answers to none of these, and I assure you it has more to do with the breezy nature of the film than my poor cognitive skills.
This is a simple film that doesn’t provide much in the way of substance, but for a fun night in, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Somewhere along the line, simple films that lack a greater message became bad. However, sometimes I just want to sit on the couch and enjoy myself without worrying about angst, or tissues, or some huge payoff. Le Chef is perfect for those who feel the same way. If you like mom’s grilled cheese and dining at TGI Friday’s every so often, spend some time with this film; if you can only be pleased by fancy crostini and real Champagne, look elsewhere.