Pairing a film with related meal is a great, inexpensive way to have a classy date night at home. In this post I review Jon Favreau’s 2014 indie film release ‘Chef’ and cook up the film’s signature dish; Cubanos, or Cuban sandwiches.
While traditional Cubanos are very much meat-eater fare, I’ve also included a vego alternative because for me, the cheese and pickle combination was almost as much of a revelation as the pork.
Written and directed by Jon Favreau. Released May, 2014.
Jon Favreau plates up a feel-good comedy with Chef, a film about passion, connection, and life in the modern age. Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a talented Chef de Cuisine for a high-end Los Angeles restaurant, whose creative efforts are routinely derided and thwarted by Riva (Dustin Hoffman), the restaurant owner.
It soon becomes evident that Carl’s resulting disconnection from his passion has tarnished all areas of his life; he is a well meaning but distracted Dad to his son Percy (Emjay Anthony), and the enduring friendship with his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) implies their romance may also have fallen victim to Carl’s inattention. Carl is a regular guy, working hard and trying his best, but is nevertheless in a rut creatively, professionally, and personally.
Carl is roused to action however when a dispute with revered food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Pratt) culminates in a video of Carl having a meltdown in front of a dining room full of patrons. The video soon goes viral, which limits Carl’s employment opportunities and forces a change of course. Seemingly out of options, Carl restores an old food truck and takes to the road to sell Cuban sandwiches, which not only sees him reconnecting with his passion for food, but also repairing his relationship with his almost-alienated son.
Chef makes a thought-provoking statement about social networking and the power it wields to make or break individuals and businesses. In a passionate outburst Carl encourages not just Ramsey Michel but all of us, to be circumspect about our use of technology, and to remember that behind every username is a flesh-and-blood person with hopes, dreams, and feelings.
While Chef is mostly endearing, funny, and well intentioned, it’s not entirely palatable. Several scenes featuring Inez were blatantly sexist and had me fidgeting angrily in my seat. When Carl collects the food truck from Marvin (Robert Downey Jr), the exchanging of un-pleasantries spirals into a vulgar display of ego as Marvin brags about sleeping with Inez following her divorce from Carl. Using Inez’s sexuality to emphasise the power struggle between the men felt crude and redundant, as the uneven dynamic was already illuminated earlier on in the dialogue; “you’re here, cap in hand asking me for a favour.” The news predictably vexes Carl and his next scene with Inez is a confrontation, in which he disappoints all of us by demanding a full account of her physical relationship with Marvin. While the scene does serve a purpose for the subplot by demonstrating that Carl still has feelings for Inez, the execution is artless, and abundant with the kind of patriarchal entitlement that I’m just plain sick of seeing on film.
From a technical standpoint, the film is quite competent; striking close-ups of fresh ingredients and expertly assembled dishes add a wealth of colour and aesthetic to Chef, and the narrative flows reasonably well, forgiving the odd redundant scene and sub-plot. The triumph of the piece, technically speaking, is categorically the score, which is worthy of celebration. DJ, Producer, and Music Supervisor Mathieu Schreyer offers up geographically appropriate Latin and New Orleans Jazz and Blues as Carl and his food truck travel through Miami and New Orleans on their way back to LA. The soundtrack for the film was so well received in fact, that in 2015 Favreau and Schreyer released Chef Vol 2, featuring additional music from the film and a few relevant extras.
On the whole, Chef is a lively and enjoyable exploration of the passions and relationships that punctuate and enrich our lives. It’s a classic triumph over adversity tale, which is likely to make you think, laugh, smile, and possibly even reflect on your own journey. One thing is for certain: Chef will definitely have you rooting through your kitchen cupboards in pursuit of your sandwich press!
Cubanos / Cuban Sandwich Recipe
Full credit for this remarkable pork goes to LA Chef Roy Choi; the recipe was widely distributed in the Chef soundtrack CD jacket.
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp orange zest
- 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
- 8 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup coriander, chopped
- 1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped
- 1 tbsp oregano leaves, chopped
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp each salt and pepper
- 1kg boneless pork shoulder
- 6 x 6" lengths of baguette, halved
- Softened butter, for brushing
- Yellow mustard
- 12 slices of swiss cheese
- 2 sour dill pickles, thinly sliced lengthwise
- 6 slices of ham
- 12 - 24 hours in advance, add the olive oil, orange zest, orange and lime juices, garlic, coriander, mint, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and stir to combine.
- Place the pork and marinade into a large, deep roasting dish.
- Cover the dish with cling wrap or foil and refrigerate for 12-24 hours, turning the pork periodically as the thought occurs.
- When you’re ready to cook, heat your oven to 220C / 425F.
- Roast the pork, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to 190C / 375F and roast the pork for a further 2 hours, or until a meat thermometre registers an internal temperature of 71C / 160F.
- Place pork on a cutting board and cover it tightly with foil. Leave to rest for 30 minutes.
- When the pork has rested, carve it into long, thin slices.
- Turn your sandwich press on (alternatively, heat a large frying pan over a medium heat).
- Slather the cut-side of your bread with softened butter, and place it buttered-side down on the press or pan. When the bread turns golden brown, move the bread onto a cutting board.
- Spread the toasted side of each sandwich with the desired amount of mustard, and top with cheese, pickles, ham, and finally, the sliced pork.
- Close the sandwich with the remaining bread, and brush the external bread slices with more softened butter before returning it sandwiches to the press / pan. If using a pan, simulate the action of a sandwich press by applying a small baking tray to the top of your sandwiches, and weighing it down with something heavy and heatproof (tins, perhaps?).
- Cook until the outside of each sandwich is golden, and the cheese has melted.
To make this dish vegetarian-friendly, assemble the sandwich in the same way, grating a little fresh lemon or lime zest over your cheese and pickle. Add canned black beans or a smearing of frijoles to make a more substantial sandwich.
I get it, you don’t always have bags of marinading time, and 3 hours to babysit a dish in the oven. If you have a pressure cooker, you can speed this whole process up (but full disclosure, the end product won’t be nearly as noteworthy). Marinade the pork for as long as you can. When you’re ready to cook, add the pork and the marinade to your pressure cooker, along with 4 cups of water or stock. Seal the pressure cooker and bring to pressure over a high heat. Reduce heat to low, and cook for 45 minutes. When it is safe to open your pressure cooker, transfer the pork to a cutting board and cover tightly with tin foil; allow to cool and rest for at least 15 minutes. Continue from step 8 in the main recipe above.