C California Style

Chef to Chef

by C California Style

L.A.’s Roy Choi and Jon Favreau team up in the kitchen and on the big screen.

El Jefe food truck makes a stop at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas.

El Jefe food truck makes a stop at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas.

Jon Favreau (actor, writer and producer of Hollywood tentpoles like Iron Man) returns to his more intimate Swingers roots with Chef (May 9, Open Road Films). Carl Casper is a hotheaded L.A. toque at a white-tablecloth Brentwood establishment who thinks he has it all, including the hot floor manager (Scarlett Johansson). When he suddenly quits, he takes a ramshackle food truck on the road instead. Robert Downey Jr., John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara and Dustin Hoffman costar in the comedy. But, as Favreau explains, he needed expert help: “Roy [Choi] is credited with starting the food truck explosion in L.A., and I was hoping that he could offer an authentic perspective on the sequences. In doing my research, I was struck by how similar Roy’s journey was to the one that I had written.” Favreau deferred to Food & Wine’s Best New Chef of 2010 and innovator behind L.A.’s Kogi BBQ, A-Frame and newcomer POT at The Line Hotel. “Roy put me through the paces. He started by sending me off to do some intensive training at a culinary school, where I learned the basics: knife cuts, mother sauces, basic technique. After that, I started in Roy’s kitchens, [eventually] working on the line during dinner service. I even cooked on the Kogi truck to get a feel for what that was like.”

Roy, how did this job differ from other chef-consultant gigs?

Roy Choi: At first, I imagined it just as a service to keep the cooking details intact, like teaching [Favreau] about boxing for a fighter role. But then it kept evolving, and I think we all realized it wasn’t just a one-off job. They allowed me to be a part of their family, and I showed them more than just recipes as I learned from Jon about storytelling and the film world.

So it was different from teaching a cooking class?

RC: It is actually not that different. Being a teacher is more than just teaching the skills. Being a teacher is about carrying on the craft and passing it to the students. Being a teacher is about listening and learning while you teach. These all were a part of our relationship. The only difference is that I got Craft Services every day and pigged out on pistachios.

What was the research process like?

Sofia Vergara (Inez), Favreau (Carl Casper) and Emjay Anthony (Percy Casper).

Sofia Vergara (Inez), Favreau (Carl Casper) and Emjay Anthony (Percy Casper).

RC: The food was specifically tailored. I started to understand Carl Casper and his time and place and emotional circumstance. So it was hard especially to cook the food at the restaurant because I had to create a menu that was dated and from the ’80s—like looking at old outfits you wore in high school. I couldn’t let my ego get in the way and tried to help the film by making the lava cake or filet mignon feel exactly as it should feel—passé.

Was everything prepared on set—and was it actually edible?

RC: We treated the whole film as a real kitchen, so we bought the food from my regular purveyors. We had real cooks on set, real butchers, real recipes, challenged our food stylist to use no glycerin, and she was so open and cool. All the food was cooked as if it was being served to eat. I’m a chef, so I don’t know any other way. Maybe that helped the culture, maybe not—but I surely wasn’t gonna allow food to be disrespected, and Jon was so mindful of that.

You had a cameo in the film, too. Any dreams of leaving it all for acting?

RC: I actually took some theater classes in college, believe it or not. We do need more Asian actors in better roles, but not at this stage in my life. I’m a cook that takes care of people. That’s good enough for me right now.

By Alison Clare Steingold