Le Chef

Original title or aka: Comme un chef

Director: Daniel Cohen
Starring: Michael Youn, Jean Reno, and Raphaelle Agogue
Distributor: Icon Films
Runtime: 84 mins. Reviewed in Jun 2012
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Infrequent coarse language

This delightful French comedy is about a chef, Jacky Bonnot (Michael Youn), who is extremely talented at what he wants to do, but unable to break into the restaurant scene. He dreams of opening a famous French restaurant, but is unable to realise his ambition. To make ends meet, he accepts routine and menial cooking jobs that never realise his talents, just to bring home some money. They lead nowhere, he keeps getting fired, and his pregnant girl friend, Beatrice (Raphaelle Agogue) gives him no great encouragement. She even tries to arrange a job for him as a handy-man at an old peoples’ home. True to his talents, Bonnot soon takes over the home’s kitchen and begins to serve great meals to its residents.

One day, Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno), a renowned Parisian chef, whose management of his famous 3-star restaurant is threatened by the financial group that supports it, visits the old peoples’ home, and by chance tries one of Bonnot’s dishes. He is very impressed, and thinks that Bonnot is the man who will give him the inspiration he needs to revive his reputation. They join forces, but their personalities clash around how both of them want to create good food, and they have to work their differences out. Lagarde desperately needs Bonnot to inspire him to salvage both his future and his restaurant, and Bonnot needs Lagarde to provide the credibility he must have to satisfy his culinary ambitions. Both are impatient for different reasons.

There are some delightful scenes that French comedies do so well. It is sheer delight to see Bonnot delicately preparing fine, haut-cuisine food at a cooking class, attended by people who care mostly about steak, sausages and French fries. They want basic fare, while Bonnot is preparing small food sensations to instil in them the appreciation of fine food. Not surprisingly, Bonnot takes exception to their tastes, and is fired yet again.

There are other charms in the movie as well. The quarrels between Lagarde and Bonnot reveal fascinating insights into the culture behind good restaurant-eating. It is a culture that has its own pretensions, and they come across especially well with Cohen’s buoyant direction.

There are many good movies about food, from “Babette’s Feast” (1987), through “Chocolate” (2000), to the more recent “Julie and Julia” (2009), and “The Trip” (2010). All of them convey a passion for food, and this film does that also. In this movie, there are lots of scenes of succulent dishes being lovingly prepared, and the movie carries its own special insights into the restaurant trade. In a world fiercely competitive for Michelin stars, Lagarde comes under pressure from the CEO of his restaurant group, who tells him he will lose his restaurant if it drops a Michelin star in the next Food Guide. His boss thinks the image of the restaurant can only be enlivened by the restaurant serving molecular cuisine.

Bonnot has to learn molecular gastronomy quickly, and Alexandre knows nothing about it. To pursue the art of molecular gastronomy, Bonnot works feverishly in a kitchen full of liquid nitrogen and fuming beakers. Cohen uses the movie to take an intentional swipe at elBulli’s Ferran Adria, one of the acknowledged top chefs of the world, who specializes in experimental gastronomic cuisine.

The acting is spirited and in tune with the pace of the movie. Some scenes are over the top (like Bonnot, in Japanese drag, spying on a rival chef), and the film is repetitive and a little sentimental. There are enough laughs in the film, and intelligent comment on the culinary trade, however, to make the film a very enjoyable French piece. And the passion for food, that it shows so well, never lets the film down.

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