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Heads up to “Iron Man” fans, “Chef” is director Jon Favreau’s fabulous stress-vanquishing vehicle after all his superhero ventures, and it lets off more steam than all the potholes in New York City. There is not one superhero sighting here. Although “Iron Man” himself, Robert Downey Jr., makes an appearance, he’s more interested in finding a good restaurant than kicking ass.

You’ll see a lot of food in “Chef” (some scenes are just close-ups of glittering, enticing dishes), but this film is really the battle cry of the artist who pines to be his own creative master. Favreau stars, writes, directs and clearly relishes having total control over the material and the chance to throw personal hygiene concerns straight out the window: As talented but scruffy and overweight chef Carl Casper, Favreau sure looks like he could use a long soak in a soapy tub.

But Carl just doesn’t have time. Which is one of the salient points behind “Chef”: Artists, whether they’re behind a camera or a hot stove, must answer to one or more demanding big shots, which ultimately ruins their work and, um, eats into their personal time, which they should ideally be spending washing themselves or saving their marriages.

Chef (Chef- Mitsuboshi Food Truck Hajimemashita)
Rating
Director Jon Favreau
Run Time 114 minutes
Language English
Opens Feb. 28

In Carl’s case, the big shot is Riva, owner of Los Angeles’ legendary Gauloise restaurant and a hard-nosed businessman who thinks eating food should be like listening to an album everyone knows and can relate to. Carl, on the other hand, wants to try new things and “be an artist.” Riva wouldn’t hear of it — “If you went to a Stones concert and Jagger didn’t play ‘Satisfaction,’ how would you feel?” he asks — and he orders Carl to serve up the same old to LA’s most-feared food critic, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt). Carl winds up confronting the displeased Ramsey, which quickly descends in a scream-fest that goes viral online.

Fortunately Carl has friends and allies, not least his bombshell ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and his 10-year-old whiz-kid son Percy (Emjay Anthony). They convince Carl to head to Miami, where Inez’ first husband, Marvin (Downey Jr.), is talked into buying a food truck for him. Out of this tiny mobile kitchen, with Percy and his former sous chef (John Leguizamo) helping out, Carl turns out Cubano sandwiches and other Latin specialties to hungry crowds. In the process he reconnects with all the things that made him want to cook in the first place, and he decides that Jagger deserves to play whatever he damn well pleases.

“Chef” was obviously a post-“Iron Man” labor of self-healing and therapy for Favreau — even superhero-franchise regular Scarlett Johansson makes an appearance to comfort Carl and spout words of wisdom. Which goes to show two things: Firstly, not even a successful action movie franchise will make a director happy; and secondly, the money made from said action movie franchise can finance personal projects. So no “Iron Man” means no “Chef.” No “Godfather” trilogy, no Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Seems like a fair trade.

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