When done right, films about food naturally also touch on larger subjects like love, ambition, and artistic fulfillment. But Daniel Cohen’s Le Chef does little more than illuminate the superficiality of the restaurant business.
Jacky (Michaël Youn) is an upstart chef who can’t hold down a job and idolizes Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno), a bastion of classic French cooking. After Alexandre serendipitously tastes Jacky’s food, Jacky is invited to work at Cargo Lagarde, a three-star restaurant being threatened with conversion to molecular cuisine by its slimy new owner (Julien Boisselier).
It’s a breezy enough setup that makes use of Reno and Youn’s comedic rapport, but Cohen makes the mistake of herding his characters into a one-sided discourse about molecular gastronomy, summed up by a scene in which a Spanish expert (Santiago Segura), whose halting French is played for laughs, attempts to teach Alexandre and Jacky his secrets and makes an explosive mess of the kitchen. Though Reno’s Alexandre huffs and puffs at his underlings with gusto, it’s the young Jacky who does most of the heavy lifting in the pair’s quest to create a new menu, and Youn, who looks a little like a sincere, stagy Jason Bateman, is responsible for nearly all of the story’s relatability.
He even (kind of) resolves the ideological debate: We’re told that Jacky has successfully combined traditional and trendy techniques in a final culinary feat that he himself declares “impossible.” But Le Chef‘s topical gestures will only date it, as will the regrettable scene in which Jacky and Alexandre infiltrate a faddish rival restaurant costumed as a geisha and a samurai. In a film concerned with integrity, it’s an embarrassingly tasteless bit that makes both characters less palatable.