Chef At East London Film Festival
Posted on June 16, 2014
The first stop of the day is at Clapton Craft, to stock up on beer to enable us to tackle any situation. London is starting to can its beer into conveniently sized cans and now we can be conveniently askew anytime, anywhere. Today our whistles must remain wet for a journey into the strange lands of Stratford, to take in a screening of Jon Favreau’s Chef. Cookery has been on a strange journey over the past decade or whatever, with weird TV shows full of arseholes all over the telly and social time being popularly spent chomping down high-end poverty food in carparks all over London. Now, Hollywood is bringing catering to the big screen, with the first food film I’ve wanted to see since Good Burger.
We loop past the Olympic stadium, then have to suffer the monument to idiocy and greed that is the Westfield shopping centre. Burn it! Burn it all! After a patch of marketing suites we find the East Village, an awful little Lego town where East London Film Festival were paid to screen the movie. The housing here is empty, like an unsuccessful utopia, with all aesthetic pointers taken from the locations in Demolition Man. Still, there’s a free screening and a bit of catering going on. Whilst Tiny Wife makes house on a hillside and waits for a friend, Liam and I get some pizza in from Born and Raised, finding Yu Kyu’s Yuki doing the cooking. New to the streets, Yuki’s Katsu curry is delicious and there’s barely a nicer a person to be found in a London food van.
As we sit and eat pizza and drink fine booze from the good people of Beavertown, it’s notable how tiny the screen is given the location, and also how really shit the picture quality is. The first section of the film is mainly shot indoors so we can barely see a thing on the dark screen. As the action passes, there’s much more exterior, daytime stuff so there’s something to be seen. The film is charming and funny, containing a lot of modern technological references to Twitter etc without being too tacky. Star faces pop up at will, including Scarlett Johansson, who was completely wasted as we couldn’t see her at all on the shitty screen.
More importantly, the movie contains some great catering. The food on show looks delicious, there’s lots of very neat mise en place and good periods of push, push backs-to-the-wall cooking. The reality of working in a street food truck is almost there, with as much heart and soul as father/son storyline which carries the whole thing. At a point I remember that it’s father’s day and that I should probably make a call, but then I also remember my dad NEVER calls, so fuck him. Favreau’s character eventually does a good job at being a decent father, buying his kid a kitchen knife and teaching him the importance of serving consistent, high quality food.
There’s laughs and good performances, including a nicely weird turn from Robert Downey Jr, but the ending leaves me feeling a bit empty. For all the romance and rewards of owning a street food van, the chef sells out quickly to the dickhead blogger who starts all the trouble in the first place. Rather than the van being an escape from the confinement of a professional kitchen, it becomes a gimmick to get the shackles back on the creative cook. I air my thoughts and Liam comes back quickly:
‘It’s about a chef.
It’s not Street Food: The Movie.’
He’s right. But I’d still rather the chef to have found his freedom away from a ‘boss’. He should never have forgiven the critic, just fucked him off and carried on catering, just to see how far he could push it. It’d have given him more time with his kid too. Working in a kitchen is fucking shit! Stay on the road! Death to food bloggers!
Either way, despite the tacked-on ending, the film was good and the location was perhaps more fun than going to the cinema, if only because when outdoors you can freely drink your own booze and bun zoots. We escape via some more manicured gardens and head back to Hackney Wick the way we should’ve come earlier. As we wander through the gardens Liam gives a glimpse of the future.
‘There’ll be a Costa over here, a Starbucks, Waitrose Express, Little Waitrose…whatever the fuck it’s called.’ And so the corporate communities of the future are built. Sleep in your box, buy your food in a box, get buried in a box.
We cross back to Hackney Wick and stop for a beer in Crate, a place that is simultaneously everything that’s good and everything that’s bad about East London. As the last thing you’ll find before you cross over into the bland expanse of Stratford, it seems Crate has been infested by the New Bland. As a brewery and pizza place in an old industrial building on a canal, it could be seen that Crate is a lovely idea. However, the reality is that the beer is awful and the pizza is dry as biscuits. It’s also fair to say the place is full of cunts, other than one mad pikey in a tiger onesie with trackies over the top, who draws a spliff-smoking face on a poster whilst dancing about like a loon.
All the stereotypes are packed in here. Some cunt in trackies and old brogues spinning tunes, blank-faced, muscular, bespectacled; all kinds of confused. An awful pair at our table, an effeminate dude going on about the pressure to be ‘Liked’ on Facebook.
‘I have to uphold my reputation as someone who makes other people laugh.’ This from the kind of guy who wears all of his old festival wristbands, deeply caring what other people think. He goes on to show the awful girl he’s with pictures of his mother on Facebook.
‘I LOVE your mum…has she got a tattoo!?’
Across the way a gay couple crunch through dry pizza, expressionless, wearing almost exactly the same outfit, right down to the horn-rimmed spectacles.
As canal boats pass carrying people chilling and getting lightly Sunday-pissed, it seems clear that the only problem with Favreau’s film was the eager-to-please element. I imagine the studio demand a ‘happy’ ending that returns the hero to the demands of cash and trends, rather than show someone finding happiness and freedom that has little to do with money, but more to do with interacting with decent people whilst simply catering for those that are hungry and having a good time whilst doing so. These are the reasons I cater and the reasons I’ll always be poor.