Although Jon Favreau prepared for his role in “Chef” by developing his culinary skills, he started out with the mindset of a chef. “I like food. Even if I’m not eating it, I’m thinking about it,” he says.
With “Chef,” Favreau, 47, is hoping to create a work that will join the food-focused films he loves: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” “Eat Drink Man Woman,” “Mostly Martha,” “Ratatouille,” and “Big Night.” “These are the ones chefs like,” says Favreau, who wrote, directed, and stars in “Chef.” “The others they write off as not what happens in the kitchen.”
But that meant concentrating on the details. “The things that look beautiful in movies are not what chefs love. They love stainless steel, cleanliness. It’s about a puree you’ve been working on for hours that’s now in a deli container,” Favreau says. “Movies always make restaurants look frilly and chefs are no-frills.”
Favreau consulted with Los Angeles-based chef Roy Choi. The Korean barbecue tacos served by Choi, 44, from his Kogi food trucks on the streets of LA fueled a national trend. Says Choi: “I give Jon all the kudos. The main thing he cared about was getting it right for us.” Choi’s role was nuance and color, and “how we fold our towels, how we button our shirts, some of the language.” The pair began with a six-hour shift traveling between Choi’s various restaurants and food trucks. “He whispered everything to me that he was doing. He let me see things through his eyes,” says Favreau.
Choi also helped Favreau develop the skills he needed to successfully play an experienced chef. According to Favreau, Choi told him, “You’re not setting foot in my kitchen until you have some French culinary training.”
The director worked with an instructor on the basics of French technique, starting with knife skills and sauces, before being invited back to Choi’s kitchen. “I was prepping, bottom man on the totem pole,” Favreau says. “Eventually he threw me on the line as a pair of hands in the kitchen.”
For the food scenes, Choi worked with food stylist Melissa McSorley to cook and plate initial versions of dishes as demonstration for the actors. “Then I would step back and let them do it on screen. Everything was real food. We ate it all after the first take,” Choi says.
Says Favreau: “I’m sorry it’s over. I love this world.”