Forgiving ‘Chef’: A food-story rant
Chef is an awful film, overall. The script is as flaccid and soppy as the chef is critiqued to be before he blows up at a smirking food critic. The acting is below average and the casting patchy. Stale stereotypes of restaurant kitchens and chef-banter abound. A foot-long french loaf is still shown to be good for few things other than as an obtuse prop in a skit about masculinity and penetration.
But the food is beautiful. It shouts and sizzles and plainly, profoundly, drove a stake into my heart. It’s a film less about politics, romance and the food business, than it is about the tug of home-food on beating hearts and small bodies that can find solace in melted cheese, buttered toast.
Melted cheese on buttered toast.
It is about finding family through eating, cutting, standing in hot crowded spaces.
It’s also about capital. About making money by handing over fried pork doused in fat to the clamouring hands that come to beg for the intimate honour of sharing something simply good. A cheering on of the reckless frivolity of spending income on fleeting mouthfuls, momentarily experienced, then unceremoniously digested and shat out.
I loved the cheese, stretching in long strands from mouth to finger. I loved it so much that it overcame the awfulness of metaphorical cheese that was slathered on almost every frame. It unearthed for me that deep, guttural joy that eating can give. Cooking for others, the film shows, is an intimate sharing of secrets. It’s mighty.
It reminded me why I made this book. It’s not for the sales, or the crowning clap of having something I made reproduced by the thousand.
It’s for that phone call from my father, saying his colleague who bought the book took it away for a weekend. And that they were rained in and they read it cover to cover like a storybook, cooking from it all weekend, coming home pleased.
It’s hearing my friend across the sea made the potatoes with feta and almonds. And my aunt in Johannesburg the butternut soup. It’s knowing someone might dare an omelette that involves separating eggs for the first time. Or discover that bacon carbonara doesn’t need cream in order to comfort.
Meals are stories and I hope Yum-mo helps write them for you. I hope the narratives are engaging and the presentation well-received. I hope the characters all get to know their place and that you enjoy casting them there. That the critics are kind and thoughtful. And I hope that regardless of whether you’re eating from a food truck, a decked-table palace, or your own home, that you take the time to chew.
(So I suppose I recommend the movie, poor as it is.If you can’t stand soppiness and predictability maybe just make a perfect cheese and ham sandwich and ponder it until your tastebuds thank you).