The prominence of world-renowned chef Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno) is under siege, as the new CEO of his restaurant is looking to replace him with a younger chef that has mastered the art of molecular gastronomy. In Daniel Cohen’s French language film “Le Chef,” Lagarde is stuck surviving on recipes that are stuck in the past. In order to keep his kitchen alive, Lagarde brings in underappreciated culinary genius Jacky Bonnet (Michael Youn) to spice things up.
According to his contract, if Lagarde loses one of his three Michelin stars at his restaurant, Cargo Lagarde, he will be out of a job. In an attempt to create new desirable dishes, Lagarde experiments with entrees that have been popular in his restaurant and on his television show. All seem to fail, however, as he refuses to deviate from his traditional cooking style. With the possibility of food critics arriving at his restaurant within the next few weeks, Lagarde stumbles upon Jacky, a soon-to-be father who has been working as a painter. A die-hard fan of Lagarde, Jacky has memorized the measurements and ingredients of Lagarde’s recipes from more than a decade. Selecting Jacky as his second in command, Lagarde learns important lessons in humility, family and respect as he fights to keep his restaurant.
For anyone who has worked in a kitchen, the expedited path Jacky takes from line cook to right-hand man of one of the most prominent chefs in the world is irritable. Serving up course after course of faith-driven circumstances, the storyline is highly predictable and sappy. It is as if events occur for the sole purpose of creating a fantasy life many chefs could only dream of — career- and relationship-wise. If the writers of “Le Chef” spent a little more time in Michelin kitchens, the basics of culinary professions could have been less exaggerated, becoming more believable and entertaining. Due to a cookie-cutter plot and a lack of twists, the conclusion is virtually predictable from the trailer.
Alongside problems in the kitchen, “Le Chef” treads the line between comedy and distasteful insults. In an unnecessary and borderline-offensive scene, Jacky and Lagarde dress as a traveling samurai and geisha couple to dine at a competing chef’s restaurant to steal potential modern recipes without being recognized. Not only do the characters irrationally slur Japanese words and degrade traditional Japanese attire, but they do so without garnering a laugh. The scene is obviously intended to be comical and most likely would not have been as distasteful if it were. But the set script lacked anything remotely humorous.
Despite the lack of enthusiasm put into the thought of a real kitchen scenario and the unattempted slurs, the food and drink presented are elegant. By including exquisite dishes such as lamb topped with cinnamon and lotus leaves and caramelized leek, the film pays its due respect to luxurious taste and French cuisine. The presentation of the food is also spectacular and will have audiences drooling throughout the film. The one thing this film does fabulously is its food.
Although Reno’s screen presence is a pleasant experience, there is nothing more to attract American audiences to this French film. It is not amorous enough to be considered a romantic comedy, but the relationship subplots carry more weight than simply character development. “Le Chef” is a comedy mishap filled with fast-food ingredients; it is bland, offensive and overdone. After the conclusion of the film, the audiences will not leave the theater eager to take up culinary as their newfound passion. It’s a French foodie but does not deserve three stars.
“Le Chef” is playing at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley.