The director who used elaborate special effects to make Iron Man soar through the night sky and a spaceship land in the Wild West says, “there is nothing more cinematic and exciting than watching food be prepared.”
Jon Favreau, helmer of blockbusters like Iron Man 1 and 2 and Cowboys & Aliens, adds, “Modestly budgeted films like Eat Drink Man Woman or Jiro Dreams of Sushi are as compelling as any big budgeted Hollywood movie.”
In his new film Chef (which he wrote, directed, produced and stars in), Favreau plays Carl Casper, a chef set on a new culinary path after an influential food critic gives his restaurant a savage review.
The nugget of inspiration for the movie came two decades ago when Swingers, another film Favreau wrote and starred in, became a hit.
“The Big Night came out the year Swingers did,” he says, “and I remember seeing that film and feeling like they had really accomplished so much. With Swingers we had certain modest accomplishments. I was satisfied with it, but Big Night felt like a movie and felt like they had captured something larger.
“Maybe that was in the back of my head for the last 20 years. There was an envy that I had of what they were able to accomplish with the music, the culture, the performances, the food and how delightful it was. So I finally got to make my food movie.”
In those 20 years, Favreau has been in the Hollywood trenches as a producer, director, actor and writer and is quick to note the similarities and differences between the story of Chef and his real-life work in the movie business.
“The archetypes of the players on the stage in the food world and the movie world are very similar,” he says.
“The stakes are a bit higher in the food world, which is why it is dramatically appealing. One bad review can shut you down. Right now, the way reviews work in movies is that you’re reading 90 reviews. It’s all on Rotten Tomatoes, a compilation of numbers and you don’t really have that personal relationship with a specific critic as you do in the theatre world or the food world. In the food world you are eye-to-eye with that critic and you are eye-to-eye with the customer and when that food gets sent back to the kitchen you are looking at that plate. It’s a lot different.”
Favreau’s next film is a live-action remake of The Jungle Book, but he says he’ll likely flip-flop between big- and small-budget films in future.
“If I knew I could come up with a small story that I’d be excited about, next year I’d do this again but honestly, it hasn’t been since Swingers that I’ve been able to sit down and write something so fully formed so quickly.
“I somewhat envy the filmmakers who can come up with a small story each year because this was the best experience I’ve ever had.”