Tribeca Interview: Jon Favreau Talks Going Back To His Roots With ‘Chef’

Jon Favreau has had a lengthy career both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. As an actor-director-writer Favreau got his start making moves in independent film. He’s had notable success early on with his feature directorial debut Made and before that wrote the cult hit Swingers, which he also starred in with his friend Vince Vaughn. From there he’s widened his net and has been the machine in some form, whether its directing or producing, behind some blockbuster juggernauts like Elf, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers.

It goes without saying that Favreau is business savvy, but what’s particularly surprising is the very nature in how he diplomatically discusses the pros and cons of the film industry. He’s just as warm as he is knowledgeable, and because of this Favreau exhibits a very generous take in painting a clear picture of the film industry without any reservations or bias. His very nature of connecting with people on just about any subject under the sun, whether it’s talking about reality shows or his home life, is the same spirit that makes his films relatable and enjoyable to watch.

This year Jon Favreau made a brave turn in his career, by going back to his independent roots, which proved to be more of a gamble than taking on another sure bet in the Marvel universe. The triple threat brought his passion project Chef to the Tribeca Film Festival, which he produced, wrote, starred in and directed. The film is an analogy for the creative slumps one can be saddled with in the film business when trying to please an environment fueled by critics and commerce.

In Chef Jon Favreau plays a chef, who at the height of his career, decides to quit his job at a Los Angeles restaurant after refusing to compromise on his creative integrity with the owner. In order to find his next move, he goes back to where it all started in Miami, teaming up with his old partner Martin (John Leguizamo), ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and their young son Percy (Emjay Anthony) for a new business venture operating his own food truck. Coloring the canvas with the excitement and flavors of the modern food world, it’s no surprise that Chef won the audience award at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.

The Inquisitr’s Niki Cruz had the opportunity to speak with Jon Favreau about his new film. Here’s a few highlights from the roundtable discussion.

On social media

I’m a pretty early adopter of social media. There’s a whole sub culture to it. I’m smart enough not to tweet things out of emotion. I think people who misunderstand how far reaching social networking is they can make mistakes. I’ve just been by nature a more measured and paranoid person. In general your most emotional response to something is not the best, it’s usually the most ill advised one.

On training as a chef

I trained with Roy Choi for three months. He came up with the menu, he was the guy who said I needed to get the culture of chef life right. Every step of the way, whether it was the script or my training, or the way the food was presented in the film, he oversaw it. He sent me off to a very condensed version of French culinary training just so I can be exposed to what my character would have been exposed to. Then I worked on his line in his kitchen.

On his best dish

Sometimes it’s the simple things. I can make a really good grilled cheese but you would taste it and know it’s on a different level. I got very good at cooking on very high heat while cooking steaks. These are all things with very little ingredients. The berry dish I make in the movie with the brittle is a very simple dish, but it requires a lot of detail to get the brittle to the right temperature so it can shatter just right. It’s only four ingredients. It’s been really fun.

Using food culture as a film business analogy

I think the food came first because I’ve been fixated. You have to find something that you have to obsess over if you’re making a movie about it. As a director you have to be able to pick something that excites you enough that you can breathe it every day. Food was something I thought was cinematic. There are so few films about that world especially with that rock star celeb chef culture. At the same token I know the creative process and the balance between art and commerce. People in the movie business tend to be a little more realistic about it. You can’t make a movie about making movies — it’s boring. The culture allowed me to take some of my feelings like wanting to make something that’s my vision, but also having to satisfy an audience, along with the people that are investing money, and then the final product being reviewed by critics. I was able to exaggerate aspects of that to color this film.

Watching cooking reality shows

I love them all. I love watching shows about cooking, so I kind of had a really good context of it all. Gordon Ramsey – there’s one that’s really good if you can dig it up on YouTube. It’s called Boiling Point and it was the beginning of Gordon Ramsey. It really showed what’s now evolved into a persona because back then he was just a chef breaking out. I’ve seen every episode of Top Chef too. Anthony Bordain is the one voice I listened to. I loved his voice as the gonzo journalist chef who in Kitchen Confidential, really showed what that world was, which was really intriguing to me. The idea of the fast and loose life they were living and the type of people that are drawn to that world — all of that really said to me that there’s a movie here. I really like to draw from naturalism and highlight it.

Going back to his independent roots

I saw Lena Dunham and Louis C.K. having so much fun doing it, and I was missing it. I realized that maybe I could do it if I wanted to. I knew logistically I could, but I didn’t know if I could do it creatively. It was intimidating because it takes a lot. There’s less safety nets. For the bigger movies, once you get your cast it’s pretty much too big to fail and you’ll be protected, and then you can make it special and elevate it, but the big ones are going to push all the way through. The little ones if you lose power it just crashes. If you lose your thread of inspiration there’s no safety net. People think bigger movies are bad and that’s just not true, there’s bad big films and there’s bad little ones. The bad big ones have to make their money back so they’ll push them down your throat but the little ones just disappear if they’re bad. I had so much fun doing this, and I’m so proud of it. If I could come up with a script every year I would do it.