The life of a chef can be demanding, both physically and emotionally. Long, hectic hours, modest pay—so when chefs get time off, unwinding is top priority.
Sitting in on Monday Pizza Day with Chef Meach and two of his line cooks made me feel a little like a stringer for National Geographic, observing an isolated tribe of aboriginals during a sacred ceremony.
Kicked up pies (more on that later) and craft brews at noon on a weekday? The only thing we needed was a Nintendo 64 and a copy of GoldenEye. Instead, I brought Jon Favreau’s indie hit Chef to see how a room full of industry pros would react.
What else is there to say about Marcus Meacham? The Texas transplant has had more ink spilled on him than a fur coat at a PETA rally. He’s had tons of television and radio exposure since last we’d met in a professional capacity. I like to say I knew him when.
Fortunately, notoriety has not robbed Meacham of his elegance. Clad in pajamas and still somehow camera ready, he guided me through the day’s menu: Hounddog’s pizza. One mushroom, one pineapple and jalapeño.
But like any decent chef, Meach came correct with some custom toppings. For the mushroom, a heaping mound of sweet, shredded, braised beef short ribs, and for the pineapple-jalapeño, Benton’s bacon, cubed and deep fried in—what else—reserved Benton’s bacon fat. I can say with confidence that it was some of the best pizza I’ve ever had.
On top of that, everything about the afternoon had a wonderful herbal essence. In my relaxed state, I jawed with Meach about his new(ish) digs at Kraft House No. 5 in Powell.
Since last June, he’s been given carte blanche to curate the menu to his liking and whip up some pretty spectacular specials. The “Hangin’ with Mr. Grouper” comes to mind: blackened grouper cheeks on top of warm, herbaceous kohlrabi salad and citrus butter. On the menu full-time now is a personal favorite, “When Pigs Fly,” pork shank “wings” with cherry mango IPA barbecue sauce.
If it seems like all we talked about was food, you’d be wrong. For approximately three minutes, we discussed music. Then, the film.
Only one of the three culinary professionals in the room had seen Chef going in, and it wasn’t Marcus. All caught up on his culinary exploits and into our second (third?) round of beers, we dimmed the lights and got the show started.
About the movie
Chef tells the tale of Carl Casper (played by Jon Favreau), a once-elite chef who has hit a bit of a rut after finding success and settling into the executive position at a fine dining restaurant. His job consumes all of his time, of course, and he has become estranged from his family as a result.
At the outset, the crowd was wowed. Meach, along with past and present sous chefs Brandon Reisig and Charlie Umland oohed and ahhed as the opening sequences of Chef played like professional-quality food porn—not that grainy nonsense you photograph yourself while you hog the table and let your food go cold. Glinting knives, vibrant ingredients, and full-on kitchen envy.
Big laughs came from the interactions between Chef Casper and his own two kitchen staffers, played by Jon Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale. There’s a vernacular chefs use. It’s difficult to define exactly, but I’d put it somewhere between football players and dock workers. However you slice it, it felt authentic to those in the know.
As the story progresses, Casper self-destructs on the heels of a knock-down, drag-out argument with the restaurant’s owner, a sequence that drew appreciative nods and exclamations from my trio like the audience at a Methodist sermon. Just before hitting bottom (which included a steamy evening with the restaurant’s hostess, one Scarlett Johannson, the poor guy), Casper’s ex-wife (Sophia Vergara) spurs him to return to Miami and get his groove back.
There’s a vernacular chefs use. It’s difficult to define exactly, but I’d put it somewhere between football players and dock workers. However you slice it, it felt authentic to those in the know.
The room noted that Favreau’s Chef did appear to have access to a particularly high caliber of woman. Of Vergara’s performance specifically, Meacham was quite laudatory, mentioning something of the lovely Latino woman and his plans for her and a pint of blueberries.
In the end, Casper reconnects with his son and his passion as he takes his ex’s advice and streaks across the southern U.S. in a food truck slinging Cuban sandwiches, a journey that the group agreed was over-romanticized. In one scene, Casper is teaching his son how to work the line. It’s touching, watching the young boy learn the ropes. He finally gets it right and sends out an order, and Meacham screamed, “NOW DO IT AGAIN, MOTHERF*CKER! AND FASTER!” Just what you’d expect.
After the journey, Casper is once again a sensation, and the food critic that thrashes him early in the film (Oliver Platt) becomes his new investor. He even re-marries Vergara. No blueberries were involved.
“A little too touchy-feely. too family-friendly,” Reisig said. “It made it look too easy, too clean.”
“Could have been a lot more kitchen,” Umland added.
“I’d have liked it better if it was one giant cooking montage,” Meacham said. “You could edit that down to about 45 minutes.”
We all agreed that the soundtrack was good and that the third act was a little forced. At one point, just after getting off the road from his whirlwind road trip, Casper is standing in his apartment, alone. Every one of us was disappointed when he didn’t go for a gun and end it all. Perhaps we weren’t exactly the target audience.
Still, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Six f*cks given from Chef Meach, five and seven from Reisig and Umland, respectively. It’s a little foggy, but I think it was out of 10. Better than I figured, and the boys agreed that after all that it was well-crafted and mostly authentic—a darling matinee.