The popularity of movies featuring delectable food perhaps began with “Tom Jones” (1963) and has continued with “Babette’s Feast” (1987), “Like Water for Chocolate” (1992), “Big Night” (1996) and “Ratatouille” (2007), among others. More recently, there’s Jon Favreau’s “Chef” (2014) – which is remarkably similar to this story in plot.
Stern and stubborn Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno) is a venerable celebrity chef who may lose control of Cargo Lagarde, his Paris restaurant, because the new CEO/owner Stanislas Matter (Julien Boisselier) thinks his traditional haute-cuisine is old-toque, despite his having earned the eatery’s three Michelin stars. Not only does ruthless Matter start insisting that Legarde use cheaper, chemical-laden ingredients, but he is also seriously considering hiring a young, trendy Spanish chef who specializes in the latest craze of molecular gastronomy. That’s when Alexandre discovers Jacky Bonnot (Michael Youn), a self-taught, aspiring chef whose rebellious and domineering personality gets him fired from job after job. Propelled by his very pregnant girlfriend Beatrice (Raphaelle Agogue), Jacky is ostensibly working as a handyman/painter at a retirement home, while he fulfills his passion by creating innovative meals for its elderly residents. An instinctive, culinary genius, Jacky is fearlessly original in the kitchen and Alexandre is desperate, but they’re such disparate personalities that the question arises: can the two of them work together?
Formulaically scripted as a far-fetched odd-couple farce by director Daniel Cohen, it’s primarily memorable for its cast. Internationally famous for “The Professional,” “Mission Impossible,” “The DaVinci Code,” “La Femme Nikita,” and 2002’s “Jet Lag” (in which he also played a troubled chef), Jean Reno’s comic reactions are reliably appealing, particularly as he tries to relate to his grad student daughter Amandine (Salome Sevenin) and her passion for Russian literature, while comedian/TV personality Michael Youn (“Around the World in 80 Days”) is deliciously quirky. Also on the minus side, it’s rampant with racial/ethnic stereotypes which prove more than a bit disconcerting.
In French with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Le Chef” is a frothy 5, a mildly amusing aperitif.