Movie Review: The Chef
Jean Reno in Le Chef. Picture: Icon

It's a risky business making a movie about food and restaurants as it is territory we know all too well because of the rise of reality television.

Even folk on a McDonald's or Sizzler budget can tell a champignon from a shiitake, know the secret to cooking the perfect steak (put oil on the meat, not the pan) and that Heston Blumenthal's three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Bray is called The Fat Duck.

So if you want to impress today's hyper- informed foodie you need to serve up something fresh and innovative, not reheat the leftovers from a dozen stale culinary- themed romantic comedies.

At first whiff The Chef sounds promising. It features the great Jean Reno as a nouvelle cuisine legend named Alexandre Lagarde whose revered Paris eatery is under threat from its owner who wants him to drop a Michelin star so he can bring in a younger chef who specialises in molecular gastronomy.

As Lagarde's once towering reputation starts to crumble in the face of the Spanish-led molecular revolution, a young wannabe chef leaps to his defence, a handyman in an old folks home named Jacky (Michael Youn) who knows the great man's oeuvre by heart.

While the set-up for The Chef is startlingly close to the Pixar masterpiece Ratatouille (this is a rare case of the French creating from a Hollywood recipe) it is a pity that writer-director Daniel Cohen didn't adopt some of the principles of modern cooking.

Instead of keeping things minimal and focused, he throws in too many ingredients, most irritatingly an unbelievable subplot involving Jacky and his pregnant girlfriend (Raphaelle Agogue), who has been pressuring her obviously talented partner to get a regular job for the sake of the baby.

What we get is the absurd situation of the most famous chef all of France offering Jacky a try-out as his assistant and Jacky too scared to tell his girlfriend because it is unpaid (people would kill to get on MasterChef and not a penny is offered).

Even sillier, Alexandre puts Jacky in charge of the kitchen of his iconic restaurant on his first day because of his knowledge of the Lagarde legacy (if you want realism look towards Ratatouille and its gastronomic genius rat).

Indeed, the film is cinematic junk food rather than fine dining, getting easy laughs at the expense of the current foodie culture, from the rise of the celebrity chef to the extremities of molecular gastronomy, instead of teasing out what is interesting about the cooking/eating phenomenon.

Occasionally there are moments when Cohen slows things down and lets us savour the talent of Lagarde and his acolyte Jacky, such as the preparation of an innovative meal for the food critics and the secret agents from the Michelin Guide.

And there are some amusing scenes involving a preening Blumenthal-like English molecular specialist named Cyril Boss who the owners are planning to parachute into Alexandre's restaurant (he's gleefully played by Perth-born and bred James Gerard who has being working in French cinema for several years).

But it is disappointing that a comedy from a country where food is so central serves up such a slapdash English-styled feelgood comedy, one in which there is plenty of talk about love and how it is expressed through food but nothing for us to actually see and feel the connection.

For a more convincing film about the dedication to culinary perfection and food as the embodiment of love see the current documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It is one of the year's best movies so catch it before it is taken off the Luna Palace menu. <div class="endnote">

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The West Australian

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