Whilst most of London basked in glorious sunshine and folks lounged in every possible way, I head indoors early evening to enjoy the company of true Hollywood talent Jon Favreau, who was in town to promote his new indie-food movie Chef
After an initial introduction to #ChefMovie, he returned as the credits rolled to talk us through a post-credit scene (I’ll come to that later) and then wanted to delve into how the film translated to a British audience. He was initially concerned the provincial vibe would be a problem as the food truck ‘El Jefe’ travels from state-to-state across the USA, juxtaposed with distinctive uplifting tunes. The overwhelming response from us all was ‘Not at all!’ and then various people spoke about the originality of the story, how different it was to most Hollywood offerings, how well Jon avoids clichés and the very real inspirational element.
Chris Hewitt, of Empire Magazine, was hosting the Q&A and started us off by asking how much of his own cooking Mr Favreau took on, he had this to say:
I did most of what you see. There are a few visual effects and I did make IRON MAN so it’s too easy. I’m pretty good but I definitely used a few camera tricks from time-to-time to make myself look better.
Q: What do you do?
Little things that don’t cost a lot and makes things look faster. Like combining shots and such, we didn’t have the money to take the van everywhere, so we put a fake a truck in various locations on the road. Those were stock shots and then we put the van in later.
Q: You’ve got some great knife skills, how long did they task to master?
Well, this guy Roy Choi, he started the whole food truck thing. Roy started on the Kogi BBQ truck (Korean BBQ) and worked his way up. He was at the Culinary Institute of America and one of the star pupils there to run his own kitchen. But he finally gave it up because he didn’t like what he was doing and then went and bought a taco truck, started doing Korean BBQ on and off and Twitter was the same year, I think 2008/09. The next thing he knew there were 400 people lining up and that’s when the business changed and an individual could cook their own food. People would seek them out.
Jon went onto explain how he got involved with Roy, and the process of being a Chef:
So I approached him [Roy] and he said he’d help me out but said I must get the kitchen stuff right because no one in Hollywood does – they always screw movies up about kitchens. The only American film they liked was RATATOUILLE; they get it pretty right and they had [respected American Chef] Thomas Keller working on that movie. Then, there are films like BABETTE’S FEAST (1987), BIG NIGHT (1996), MOSTLY MARTHA (2001) (very good German film) and I said yeah I’ll do it and in exchange he sent me to culinary training in a school for a couple of weeks and I learned all my knife cuts. Of course you have to go home and learn it all as well, sauces, demi-glace, all the stuff a student would know. Then I started doing prep work in his kitchens and eventually worked my way up to working the line and finally worked the trucks. So I was actually working as a line cook in his kitchens and then I worked with [Austrian-born American Chef] Wolfgang Puck and [Korean-American Chef] David Chang and he stuffed me in as part of his crew, so, I really got to know a lot of chefs and really immersed myself. And now, I’m really sad it’s over. In the States we’ve done a couple of pop-ups serving sandwiches and all the food you see, tastes even better, as a chef it had to be perfect.
He’s then asked about that Beef brisket scene:
That day in Austin with the brisket, [the audience drools/sighs as together and everyone laughs] I don’t think you guys really have that, there’s like 50 types of BBQ and steak in Texas. It’s central Texas and they don’t use sauce or anything, that’s just salt and pepper and 14 hours of smoking the meat. It’s the most tender, cheapest cut of meat there is but the most amazing I’ve had and NOW I have smokers in my back yard, and Seth Rogen does it too…. I wanna taste his brisket when I see him, we’re gonna see who cooks the best brisket.
He then goes onto suggest BAD NEIGHBOURS Vs. CHEF, that would equal SAUSAGE PARTY – amusingly the name of Rogen’s upcoming movie film but does conclude with:
It’s friendly competition. He’s a good friend.
Q: Did you consider making this film in lick ‘O’ vision?
We could have pumped smells in and it would drive people crazy. We went to Skywalker Sound to do the sound desk. This was a relativity low budget film and one of the places you save money is doing a short mix but the sound is everything on this movie and thankfully Skywalker, as I did IRON MAN there, [have] always been good with working with indie film makers. They make it work. Skywalker Ranch is just amazing. If you like STAR WARS or INDIANA JONES, it’s like being in Lucas’s brain.
The whole process of making this movie has been amazing, as happy as he is on the truck… is how happy I’ve been.
Q: As great as Roy was at getting the kitchen right, we were all happy to finally see social media being done right, would you talk about that?
You know, you start to see that it’s part of our language now. Usually visual effects want to put eye-candy out to distract people, and even in IRON MAN when you’re inside the Hud (Helmet), there is some information but it’s just to add visual interest. But when I was writing this, I didn’t know how we would do it and much like in SWINGERS we had the answer phone as it was part of our lives – maybe some of you are too young to remember that- so I wrote all the Twitter stuff in and instead of just looking at the screen, we ended up coming up with the little bird just flying away. Twitter were cool about us using it and now they’ve got a big free commercial! But they let me say ‘Fuck Twitter!’ they didn’t care, and Facebook and [it shows] the bad and good of social media. It destroys him, but also makes his dreams come true.
Jon also spoke of YouTube and how you can make money distributing yourself as there’s no gatekeeper anymore, you can self-promote and that’s how he got SWINGERS together. In essence, that same group of people can now do anything they want, adding:
If anyone comes to me asking ‘Who do I sell a script to?’, I say ‘Go make it!’ there’s no reason not to now and if enough people like it, they’ll cut you in with advertising. There’s always a way to do it now.
Mr Favreau then gave an insight into the writing process and all these ideas were unknowingly bubbling inside and bursting to get out onto the page:
It wasn’t since SWINGERS that I’d written like this, I just sat down, wrote and it just happened. [It brought up questions like] Am I spending enough time with my kids? Am I doing something I’m passionate about? Is it time to scale down? And now I’m happy to go off and do something big again with THE JUNGLE BOOK, I like the big ones, so yeah, it just all came out – it wasn’t intended actually. I have so many unfinished scripts and I just locked myself for two weeks and finished that first draft.
In CHEF, a big change in his life occurs after an encounter with a food critic and a highly entertaining social media sub-plot. Jon expressed his thoughts on being reviewed in real-life, how he felt a little hurt by comments for COWBOYS AND ALIENS but more disappointed as he felt he didn’t get across what he was trying to do, but also added that good reviews were interesting when people really dive into the movie because ‘it feels like being analysed.’
When you see the movie, stay for the brief middle credit-scene that was filmed during rehearsals. It shows Jon being taught by Roy Choi to make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich. This isn’t any old lesson as you see the commitment, passion and focus of Choi because for any great Chef it always has to be perfect. It’s fascinating and brilliant to watch just like CHEF, which is one of the finest and most refreshing, feel-good films that you’ll see all year.
Lionsgate UK’s CHEF is released in the UK on June 25th.