When Jon Favreau was filming the third installment of the Iron Man franchise, his work brought him down to South Florida. Since this time around he was not directing the film - only co-starring and producing - he found himself with plenty of free time and with an urge to explore the city.
All he really wanted to do, he tells New Times, was immerse himself in the culture, especially the food.
"I wanted to taste the food, I wanted to buy a real guayabera, I wanted to hear real Cuban music," he says. He commented to a friend on set that he could probably go down to South Beach and find what he was looking for, "he said, 'no, no, no, you're coming with me,' and he picked me up in his car and drove me to Calle Ocho. First he took me to CubaOcho for a meal and some music, and then we went to Hoy Como Ayer."
It was that authentic Miami night out that later inspired him to write his latest indie flick, Chef.
In order to prepare for his role as a chef, Favreau shadowed Roy Choi of the famous taco food truck in Los Angeles. Favreau dressed much like his character in the film - bandana wrapped around his head and a tossed on casual t-shirt - and went undercover working on Choi's truck.
Before starting his Kogi BBQ Taco Truck, Choi "worked in big kitchens and gave it all up because he did not have a fulfilling career," explains Favreau. So, he went out "bought an old taco truck and came up with a new flavor of mixing Korean and Mexican. He tweeted about it when Twitter was still new, people loved his food, and next thing you know, he had a line of 400 people waiting for his truck."
That kind of freedom to be able to carve your own path and promote yourself via social media fascinates Favreau, which is why his character in the film, Chef Carl Casper, undergoes a similar experience as Choi.
"Here's this guy who had a family and had a career and didn't balance things properly...and so, I wanted to present this guy as a man whose marriage and whose fatherhood have been a casualty of his career." Once Carl lost his family, his passion for food also dwindled. After he hits rock bottom and loses his job and jeopardizes his reputation, "he starts from scratch and reconnects with his love of food and with his role as a father."
One of the greatest moments in the film is when Carl is with his ex-wife, Inez (played by Sofia Vergara), and his son, Percy (portrayed by newcomer Emjay Anthony), at Hoy Como Ayer. The trio are dancing in the nightclub and having a magical time, and Favreau says how he knew when writing that scene that it would be the pinnacle moment in the film when Carl "would connect with his ex-wife again and get inspired to start the food truck."
"And then [I thought] how great it would be to go to Versailles and try a cubano," says Favreau when explaining the next scene. Like many nights out in Miami, it's almost tradition to end the evening at Versailles, so it's only fitting that's where his character got the idea for what food to cook.
The El Jefe food truck's main dish is a classic Cuban sandwich (duh), with some yuca fries, platanos, arroz con pollo - if you can say it, he can make it.
The food in the film was practically the leading lady, and, boy, was she pretty. Favreau's cooking skills were beyond impressive, and the delicate way he handled the dish preparations were spot-on.
Warning: this film will leave you watering at the mouth and craving every dish you see on screen - and it's all worth it.
Chef tells the story of a chef who is given a second chance at getting his life on track. Through a cross-country road trip from Miami to Los Angeles manning a food truck with his son and former sous-chef, Chef Carl Casper rediscovers his love of food and his love for his family. The storyline is as heart warming as a fresh cup of tomato soup and perfectly cheesy like a perfectly toasted grilled cheese sandwich.
Chef opens in select theaters today, May 16. See our Film page for local times and theaters.