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Favreau serves up laughs and heart with SXSW opening night film ‘Chef’

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com

Jon Favreau introduced SXSW opening night film “Chef” by describing his latest as a movie about “music, food and passion.”

“SXSW was the perfect place to bring it,” Favreau said of the world premiere.

The story of a chef (Favreau) who has lost the fire that once ignited his passion for cooking and creativity played to thunderous applause at the packed house Friday night, with many of the film’s stars – John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony and Oliver Platt – looked on from the audience.

Two familiar Austin faces could also be spotted on the big screen and in the crowd. Barbecue hoss Aaron Franklin and guitar virtuoso Gary Clark Jr. had brief cameos in the movie doing what they do best – smoking meat and slinging the blues – and both attended the screening, as did director Robert Rodriguez.

When Favreau’s Carl Casper quits his job after butting heads with his restaurant’s stubborn owner (Dustin Hoffman), the chef decides to start from scratch with a food truck. He finds inspiration (and some financial support from an unexpected source – a sleazy but lovable Robert Downey Jr.) in Florida and decides to traverse the country with his new food truck venture. Joining him are his cheerful and quick-witted sous chef (Leguizamo) and his newest culinary protégé, 10 year-old son Percy.

The cross-country trip makes stops in New Orleans for beignets and jazz, and Austin for barbecue and blues. Austinites in the audience recognized the Pennybacker Bridge, Franklin Barbecue, Guerro’s and South Congress.

For Favreau, who has spent much of the past half-dozen years directing big-budget works like “Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2,” and “Cowboys and Aliens,” the relatively low-budget “Chef” represents a return to his indie roots.

It’s “not a lofty film” the “Swingers” director said. He recognizes the heat-filled family comedy with some blue language won’t hit every audience demographic the way a comic-book movie might. But the goal of “Chef” wasn’t to make $500 million dollars. It was to find “an audience that will connect with it more personally.”

That audience was at the Paramount on Friday night.