The requirements of success
So much in today’s world is measured by “the big”—big numbers, impressive achievements, wide reach, big salaries. It’s understandable, of course. It’s hard to purchase a lot with “small,” both metaphorically and in real life. But labors of love and a true connection to art often require small, especially at first, and I think there’s a real craving for that in our mass production world. When you focus on pleasing the big crowds (and all that that entails), something gets lost.
That’s certainly the case for celebrity chef Carl Casper in the movie Chef. Losing his “big” job opens up the path to a richer, more authentic, and more connected life. Director and writer Jon Favreau, who helmed the Iron Man franchise and who plays Casper, has here returned to his indie roots, and it’s easy to draw parallels between the crowd-pleasing art that Favreau produces in the form of those Hollywood blockbusters and the crowd-pleasing food “hits” Carl is pressured to produce in the restaurant in which he’s chef. When Casper exits his job at the famed L.A. restaurant in some heated circumstances, he eventually starts up a food truck. This intimate setting—not to mention his refreshed mindset—allows Carl to re-connect with his authentic creativity and craft, as well as with his son, who has borne the brunt of his father’s workaholism.
Taking time for connection and art
One review of the movie criticized it for being slow and essentially plotless, but I don’t agree at all. The movie relishes its storytelling, perfectly appropriate for a labor of love, and it was hands down one of the sweetest movies I’ve seen in awhile. Carl is incredibly respectful of his ex-wife and her say in any parenting matters, magnanimous in his well wishes for his colleagues (even where they’ve profited from his loss), generous with the people around him, and incredibly touching (albeit gruff) as an imperfect father who’s trying to get it right. There is a section of the movie that meanders a bit, but it allowed for some fun bonding as well as for spotlighting the role of Twitter and other forms of social media in generating word-of-mouth marketing. It was fun, like hanging out with friends over a long, delicious meal.
I walked out of the movie feeling happy and hungry—the latter despite its focus on meat (though I will advise to other non-animal eaters that I had to turn my head on an early scene). It was impossible not to admire the themes of integrity, attention to craft, following one’s heart, the importance of relationships, and, of course, the emotional depth with which food affects our life. As Carl says, “I get to touch people’s lives with what I do. I love it.”
Chef is a good reminder of the power of small. It’s also a great testament that “art”—however you define that—is everywhere, in anything. It’s the way you approach what you do that matters.
What do you think?