Film: Chef vs Burnt

By James

I love cooking. I love food. In fact it was my love of cooking and food that led me to becoming a chef for a few years (an obvious career choice you might think). You’d be right, of course, until the sleep-deprived, malnourished, over-worked, under-paid, alcohol and coffee fuelled existence started to take its toll on me. I guess it goes without saying that I have the utmost respect for chefs and the ordeals they go through to make it anywhere comfortable. The thing is, after watching these two films (and drawing from my own experience), it would seem that no matter how successful you become as a chef - being a conventional cook or culinary artisan, it never becomes comfortable. Or easy…

So, I’ve taken it upon myself to compare the two biggest films that tackle this world (yes, there are many other films out there that follow chefs and Michelin level cooking, but these two movies are obvious choices for comparison). You’ll also have to excuse the food puns… ‘Dill’ with it...

Firstly, we’ll address the ‘egg-cellent’ aspects of both films.

Burnt brings us a daring chef by the name of Adam Jones. A hard and arrogant, but determined man played by Bradley Cooper. This in itself is a plus. I always enjoy watching Cooper and it is clear to see that he had something to give to the role. The tortured character that we see has multiple dimensions: He’s wracked with guilt; he’s trying to escape a past he regrets living and on top of it all he has an overwhelming drive and ambition to better himself. The story of how he gets there and the realisations and sacrifices that he needs to make in order to achieve his dreams are clear and gripping.

What is nice for me, is to see the very top end of the chef world. These characters can only be reflection of real people and the pressures, drama and responsibility on them is huge. It’s not a million miles from what I imagine an olympic athlete goes through. The definition, finesse and artistry in the food is sublime. The film presents this level of cooking as not a job or occupation but as an art - mixed in with an abundance of science, research, understanding, and talent.

And then there is Chef. Whilst we start the film in much the same place as Burnt, we do not end there. There is much more of a journey in this film. Less so of overcoming an internal conflict and growing as a person; and more of a development of relationships and mindset. Chef gives us Jon Favreau in a film-making masterclass. Written, directed, and starring our main man, he does a wonderful job of portraying the opposite end of success: utter failure. Carl Casper is a hot-shot chef that buckles under the politics of top-end cooking. His subsequent rise to happiness, however, is a thing of beauty.

The heart and intimacy of the film was paramount to the filmmakers behind this 2014 understated gem - that much is obvious. The development of each character is well thought out and expertly put together, both in the script and in their performances. What I like about Chef, over Burnt, is the amount of work Favreau has put in to learn as much as he can about being a chef. Whether he is a keen cook in his own time or not, he paints an extremely realistic picture of someone who knows his craft. It is a delight to watch and also makes you ridiculously hungry.

Especially when he makes that bloody cheese toastie! Hell’s bells, it looks so good...

But, now we’ll consider the parts we’d rather not ‘taco-‘bout’ (yes, that one was worse than the first one. No need to bring it up, I ‘donut’ get paid for this).

The issue I had with Burnt was that, whilst all this sensational cooking was going on, I struggled to connect with the main characters. They were all so wound up in their worlds of self-importance and arrogance that it detracted from the film and our ability to connect with these people. All of the finery was so important to these people and higher class that it’s just not something I can relate to. I mean, it was totally believable and I appreciated that this world exists somewhere, but it was slightly too far detached from my own conceptions as an ordinary person. The bravado that was on display stopped me from caring about the characters. Maybe that was the point? The warmth around the central character was there in abundance but it wasn’t getting through to Cooper’s character… Maybe Cooper meant to play the part like this… Maybe I missed the point entirely…

And then on the flip side, we have Chef. A character that could probably do with more arrogance, more spine, and less of the defeatist attitude. I mean, yeah, he got dealt a bad hand. His happiness was in the toilet, so it was about time to move on. I just can’t help but feel like something was lacking from the film. To the point where I think they should do a sequel. Did the new business thrive? Did the son go back to work with Casper? Did they get back together? Is the son going to become a chef? I just don’t know the answers to these questions. The film did such a good job of investing me emotionally that I feel like I’ve been let down as I didn’t get enough of them. If anything, it’s the right problem to have in a film but it’s still disappointing.

And so that, as they say, is that. In the end, I love both films. What a great ‘pear’ of movies, eh? But I think Chef steals it for me, simply because of the warmth and heartfelt performances (that and the fact I’m a big fan of Jon Favreau). As always folks, if you disagree or have more to add, let me know @MugwumpBlog.

‘Orange’ you glad you read to the end of the article?

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