Jon Favreau delivers food porn with new movie Chef

You know him as the man who helmed Hollywood blockbusters such as the first two Iron Man movies and Cowboys & Aliens.

The US actor-director, who broke out in 1996 as the writer and co-star of Swingers, returns to his indie roots with Chef, a film that promises a growling stomach after you walk out of the cinema.

Opening here tomorrow, Chef sees Jon Favreau as Carl, an executive chef of a French restaurant who, over a bad review and a disastrous social media fiasco, finds himself out of work.

Encouraged by his former wife Inez (Sofia Vergara), Carl buys a food truck and embarks on a culinary journey to recover his creativity while mending his relationship with estranged son Percy (Emjay Anthony).

Chef is a work of passion stemming from Favreau's love for food culture, and wanting to do a small movie about balancing career and family.

So he roped in his famous friends - Iron Man stars Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson had small roles - and asked his agency CAA to help finance the movie.

But before Favreau started work on his pet project, the 47-year-old turned to Los Angeles chef and food-truck mogul Roy Choi to give the movie authenticity.

The 44-year-old Korean-American cooking phenomenon, who made his name with the influential Kogi BBQ Food Truck, became the movie's technical adviser and took Favreau under his wing for about six months, which included attending a cooking crash course at a culinary institute and working undercover in Choi's kitchens.

Choi, who subsequently became a co-producer on the film, made Favreau work the line at award-winning chef Wolfgang Puck's eponymous restaurant at the posh Hotel Bel-Air when he teamed up with Puck and David Chang of New York's Momofuku dining empire for a one-night-only, seven-course US$190 (S$240) joint tasting menu.

Apprentices

Said Favreau of his apprenticeship: "I cook a little, but on this one, I was put to the test. Not only did Roy give notes on the script for authenticity, but he oversaw my training.

"He sent me off to culinary school before he allowed me to come in and start doing prep work and working on the line in his kitchen. "I spent many months working under Chef Choi, actually being up in his kitchen, and that gave me tremendous insight as an actor."

He added: "I'm scrambling around doing everything. So it's not unlike the experience in the film, where a guy goes from being a chef with a full crew in the kitchen to a guy working on his own food truck.

"There I am, taking orders, cooking the food and pushing the food out the window."

Favreau found similarities between being a chef and a director, as a chef "is like a director in the kitchen".

It looks like authenticity has been the key to Chef' success, with US film critics and food editors giving it a thumbs up when the movie premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival in March.

Choi told the Denver Post: "The way John wears his hat, the towels, the deli containers, the way we tie our aprons, those subtle nuances make it feel real.

"That was our No. 1 intention, to make sure that cooks and chefs and dishwashers and waiters and front-of-the-house people love this film."


Satisfy cravings

Fancy a Bak Chor Mee sandwich or a Ramen Burger?

Kerbside Gourmet and The Travelling C.O.W. food trucks are parked at Plaza Singapura to satisfy your cravings.

Patrons who present a Chef ticket stub enjoy $1 off each Chef combo meal.

Part of the proceeds go to Club Rainbow.

What: Chef Food Trucks Charity Fiesta
When: All-day from tomorrow to Sunday
Where: Plaza Singapura,Outdoor Front Plaza Level 1 

Who is Roy Choi

1. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Choi was raised in Los Angeles after his family migrated to the US when he was two.

2. He was a teenage delinquent. But after attending a military school in South California, he straightened out and later earned a degree in philosophy from California State University, Fullerton.

3. At 25, he became obsessed with US TV cooking show Essence Of Emeril, which inspired him to pursue cooking as a career.

4. Became a valedictorian at New York's Culinary Institute of America, and later interned at the famous Le Bernardin restaurant in New York City.

5. After working for the Hilton Hotels chain for several years, he met future partner Mark Manguera, then a hotel F&B director. Both came up with the idea of a Korean taco, thus the Kogi BBQ food truck was created in 2008.

6. Fusing Mexican and Korean flavours and dishes, Kogi BBQ became a hit, thanks to social media where Twitter was used to alert customers to the trucks' locations.

7. Choi was named one of the top 10 Best New Chefs of 2010 by Food And Wine magazine, the first food-truck operator to earn that distinction.

8. Kogi BBQ currently has four food trucks in its fleet that cover zones mapped out across Los Angeles and Orange County.

9. Choi also owns several eateries: Chego! ; Sunny Spot ; A-Frame ; 3 Worlds Cafe; and the Alibi Room. Last year, he released a memoir called L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food.


This article was first published on June 4, 2014.
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