Chef stars Jon Favreau as Carl Casper, a previously renowned chef turned play-it-safe cook. When a reviewer slams Casper’s food as being the run of the mill faire, he gets in a social media flame war that eventually leaves him jobless. Casper turns to a food truck to save his tail spinning career.
When I first heard that Favreau was directing Chef, I was naturally concerned about the portrayal of the food truck industry in such a high profile medium. My concerns were alleviated when I heard that Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ was brought on to consult and produce. Roy Choi’s history and experience with the food truck industry is second to none. Still, there is always a concern that a film can leave an audience with skewed perceptions of the subject matter. I was pleasantly surprised after seeing the film that Favreau treated the industry with respect and admiration.
The food truck industry at its core is the empowerment of the independent. It allows would be chefs to bypass the often impossible task of raising capital to fulfill their dreams. Even when capital is raised, strings are usually attached. With capital comes compromises. Compromises can turn an artist into a cog in the restaurant business wheel. In Chef, Favreau’s Casper is a cog who has lost his passion. Casper wants to create and when he can’t create in a restaurant he turns to an industry that allows food artists to follow their own path.
Chef perfectly highlighted what the food truck industry can be; an alternative route for artists that can’t afford to open a restaurant or who refuse to compromise their vision to obtain funding. At the movie’s core is an artist who wants to create. His canvas is his food truck and his art is the food he serves. I think that audiences will leave the theatre with a new or renewed respect for the food truck industry and for the men and women who have chosen it as a profession.
The food truck industry is currently struggling with a two sided public perception monster. On the one side, favorable news stories, tv shows and now movies have raised awareness and shed a positive light on the industry. On the other side, food truck operators are routinely slammed at the local level with false accusations of stealing business from restaurants (food trucks earn their customers), operating illegally and not paying taxes. Food trucks feel the love from the public on their twitter accounts and when they serve, but are often chastised by elected officials and lobbyist when trying to get substantive regulatory change in their respective markets. As their popularity grows through awareness and media channels, local advocates will have more ammunition to change local regulations. Changes at the local level will finally open up the industry to more consumers who crave innovation in food and chefs who want to be independents. I believe the movie Chef will help change minds at both the national level and the local level of both consumers (who are already pretty convinced) and politicians, who may need a little bit more nudging to come around and see the benefits of this amazing industry.
If you’re a fan of the food truck industry, or just love good movies, go check out Chef.