115 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***
The story: Carl Caspar (Jon Favreau), once a star in Miami culinary circles, is humiliated after a bad review by an influential food blogger (Oliver Platt). In a fit of rage, he blames restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) for the poor menu and is fired. Seeking to rekindle his love of cooking, he refurbishes a food truck. He urges former wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) to release son Percy (Emjay Anthony) into his care as he chases his dream of cooking and eating his way across the United States.
When you are Jon Favreau, the director who made cash registers overflow by directing the first two Iron Man movies, you take acting jobs as a hobby, and only in smaller parts or cameos.
Chef, as he has said in interviews, is his labour of love.
Favreau writes, directs and stars in this ode to food and food culture, while calling in favours from big-name pals Robert Downey Jr., Dustin Hoffman and Scarlett Johansson, who appear in cameos.
As a film-maker, his taste in actors is as finely tuned as it presumably is for food. The key supporting roles are taken by some of Hollywood's most underappreciated and underused talents, men such as John Leguizamo, who plays Martin, Carl's (Favreau) line cook, and Bobby Cannavale, who is Tony, his sous chef.
The food scenes, its preparation and the eating, are the highlight. It will take a strong-willed patron who can leave the cinema without racing to the nearest restaurant after so many lingering close-ups of sizzling meats and bubbling sauces, followed by enthusiastic, loud chomping. Favreau trained with celebrity chef Roy Choi of well-known Los Angeles Kogi BBQ Taco Truck to finesse his kitchen moves.
It is just as well that this film opens with a promotion that sees food trucks parked outside Plaza Singapura - you will be dying for a Cuban sandwich after the show or, failing that, any kind of bread-based edible.
As Caspar's food truck moves across the United States towards its inevitable happy ending, a foodie road movie emerges, featuring New Orleans beignets one moment and, later, Austin's famed Franklin Barbecue, with a cameo by owner- chef Aaron Franklin.
Favreau the DJ provides aural pleasures too. There is a moment when Carl, his son and truck crew dance to Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing, as covered by the Hot 8 Brass Band. The good cheer is irresistible, as is the song.
The project as a whole feels more like a pop-up shop than a movie, a loosely curated assemblage of Favreau's favourite actors, food, cities and music.
Luckily for viewers, he is blessed with extremely good taste.