DIRECTED BY Daniel Cohen
STARS Jean Reno, Michaël Youn
In the world of culinary cinema, if the Oscar-winning Babette's Feast is a 10-oz. filet mignon and Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman is a 4-lb. lobster, then the French import Le Chef registers as a delectable bonbon, small and insignificant but nevertheless sweet and satisfying.
The fine French actor Jean Reno stars as Alexandre Lagarde, a renowned chef known throughout Paris for his prowess in the kitchen (it also doesn't hurt that he has his own cooking show on television). Although he's the driving force at a tony restaurant named after him (Cargo Lagarde), the sleazy owner (Julien Boisselier) finds his dishes too old-fashioned and wants to replace him with a chef who specializes in the new-fangled cuisine known as "molecular gastronomy." The only way he can be fired is if Cargo Lagarde drops from a three-star establishment to a two-star one, and that's likely as Lagarde is about to be visited by some rather cranky food critics just as he's set to introduce his spring menu. But unlikely help comes in the form of Jacky Bonnot (Michaël Youn), a wannabe top chef whose demanding nature in the kitchen costs him job after job. Lagarde takes a chance on Jacky, but even the veteran chef finds himself repeatedly exasperated by this young upstart's behavior.
The French have long been efficient at producing streamlined comedies that offer spirited performances and many modest laughs (just stay away from the majority of the American remakes), and Le Chef is no exception. The subplot involving the relationship between Lagarde and his adult daughter Amandine (Salomé Stévenin), who resents her dad always spending more time in the kitchen than at home, adds nothing to the picture, but the rest is tightly scripted, with Jacky's antics earning the ire of his pregnant girlfriend Béatrice (Raphaëlle Agogué) and, in a riotous scene, Lagarde attempting to learn about molecular gastronomy from a flaky Spanish practitioner (Santiago Segura) of the dubious cuisine. All told, Le Chef goes down as smoothly as a warm glass of milk.