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Star Apps: Jon Favreau

May 16, 2014 6:09 PM PDT

Actor-producer-director Jon Favreau returns to smaller-budget filmmaking with "Chef." Here he chews the fat about "Iron Man," learning to cook, and his favorite apps.

Fear inspired "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau to produce his latest film, "Chef," a smaller-budget affair than the usual Favreau fare. After working on three "Iron Man" films, "The Avengers," and "Cowboys and Aliens," he was nervous that he'd never make another "Swingers." His fear was unwarranted -- "Chef," out today, shows just how much he's matured artistically since the 1996 cult classic. "Chef" is a warm, well-written comedy starring Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Oliver Platt, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey Jr. Favreau plays chef Carl Casper, a once acclaimed but now disgraced culinary artist attempting to reignite his career (and his passion for cooking) with a food truck. I chatted with Favreau about learning to cook, balancing work and family, his Marvel legacy, screwing up on Twitter, and his favorite apps.

Jon Favreau

In Chef Jon Favreau plays a disgraced culinary artist who must start over from scratch.

(Credit: Merrick Morton)

In the kitchen scenes of "Chef," you cook like a pro. What kind of training did you receive prior to filming?
There was a lot of training. Most of the hard work was done by going to culinary school and practicing at home. Thankfully I'm a filmmaker, so I could make it look better than I am in the film with a little movie magic in the editing room. But I still had to learn the basics -- less so for how flashy it was and more so for how I carried myself as a chef.

Chef Roy Choi -- who taught me and came up with the menus and was a coproducer on the film -- gave me a hard time about certain things. He was unhappy with how I tapped my spoon on the pot when I was done stirring. He said, "That's too loud; it sounds like you're showing off." How I held my towel was a big thing. Chefs watch you like a mechanic tunes an engine, because they want you to get it perfect.

Jon Favreau in Chef

John Leguizamo, Jon Favreau, and Bobby Cannavale take a cooking lesson from chef Roy Choi.

(Credit: Merrick Morton)

Which aspects of the chef Casper character do you relate to?
The biggest one is the relationship to the family and balancing career and family. A career in the movie business will take you away from your family if you let it. You have to create a balance, and the best way is to include your kids in what you do. So every step of the way with my training, my kids were around, and we shot it in California, which is very rare nowadays. I relate to the relationship with the son from both ends. I felt that way when I was a kid with my dad, and I feel that way with my three kids now. The cooking stuff felt like a character, and all the outbursts and fragility of ego is stuff I have never suffered from. My character is very aggressive and defensive, but I've always gotten quiet and sad when people criticize me too harshly.

Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara in Chef

Chef Casper must learn to balance his work and family life with his son and ex (played by Sofia Vergara).

(Credit: Merrick Morton)

Chef Casper really loves cubano sandwiches. Do you have a favorite dish?
The smoked barbecue, I'm a bit obsessive about lately. So I've been trying to perfect the Franklin brisket at home, which is really gratifying, because it takes 14 hours to do it. You have to time it, because there's a window after you cooked it that it's perfect. It's about an hour a pound. So you trim it, season it, temper it, and then you put it on the smoker. When it comes off, you have to rest it for a good 40 minutes for perfect consistency before slicing it. That's the moment you want to share it with people. It's kind of magical. So yeah, that Franklin brisket is one that keeps popping in my head.

Jon Favreau in Chef

Since filming this scene, Favreau can't get that Franklin brisket off his mind.

(Credit: Merrick Morton)

The major theme of the film seems to be getting back to basics. I noticed while watching that the soundtrack mirrors this, since many of the songs are the original tracks that certain hip-hop song hooks are based off of.
It's something that's very subtle in the film but something that we intended, because we wanted to have the approach in the film with the music that a chef would have with food. If you're going to cook a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you could deconstruct that into infusions or you could make a foam out of it, depending on the type of chef you are. But you're always getting back to the ingredients. You might be commenting on them and swapping textures, temperatures, and presentations, but it's always going to be peanut butter, jelly, and bread. Whether it's ice cream flavored that way, or it's a foam, it's still a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. With the music, we wanted to take songs you thought you recognized and either go back to the hooks that inspired them that most people had never heard, like "West Coast Pop Lock," or do remakes for them, like Wu-Tang Clan's "C.R.E.A.M." with a brass band, so everything should feel familiar and make you smile from recognition, and there should be a sense of humor. Since you can't taste or smell the film, the music adds some of that dimension and personality to the cooking scenes.

For the past few years, you've been making blockbusters. What was the impetus to transition back into a smaller, more personal film?
On one hand, there's fear that you can't do it anymore, so I wanted to face that fear. I've been watching people like Louis CK, Larry David, and Lena Dunham doing a similar style to what I had been doing, where you write a character kind of based on you that you get to explore through filmmaking. Part of me was imagining what my life would have been like if I had stuck with what I had started doing. Now's a time when people can do well doing that. Between the Internet and cable, there are great opportunities for personalities that don't have to be altered to fit the norms of society. You can be weird as long as you're inspired. Also, "Jersey Boys" didn't come through, and "Magic Kingdom" was delayed, and working on pilots and commercials, you're listening to everybody's opinions.

So I think all that made me want to do an acoustic set that nobody could give me notes on. I could go to a club and play my music and sing from the heart. That's what this movie is, me scaling it down enough to cast who I want, shoot how I want, and edit it the way I want. I wish I could make another one, but I don't work that way. I haven't written like this since "Swingers" almost 20 years ago. So when it hit me, I felt that I better honor it. As much as I'm looking forward to shooting "Jungle Book," I really want to do something like this again.

Jon Favreau

If launching a food truck helps chef Casper rediscover the joy of cooking, producing a smaller-budget film helped Jon Favreau rediscover the joy of filmmaking.

You must still feel an immense pride for making the first Marvel film, "Iron Man," back in 2008.
I do. There are aspects that are beyond me, like when you combine certain villains, who will win and who will lose? Like the inter-hero politics I don't totally get. But I feel a strong sense of connection to the tone, because I think the tone of "Iron Man" got inherited by all the movies that followed. It must be how an old lady feels at Christmas around her great-grandchildren, where she doesn't know their names, but she feels very connected to them.

That's how I feel, because I remember the equivalent of coming overseas on the boat with just my suitcase and no prospects, because that's what Marvel felt like when it started: If we failed, the whole thing would have gone under. The fact that it's succeeded, with all these other great filmmakers bringing their own personality to it while maintaining what was important to me when I first started it, is amazing.

Social media plays a huge role in the promotion of your culinary brand in the film. Did you learn anything about it, during film production, that you would apply to your own life?
In "Swingers" I had an answering machine as a character and a plot point, so in this movie social media is an aspect in our lives that I chose to include as a storytelling tool.

I was pretty good with social media before, especially for someone my age. I've been on Twitter for five years. I made a little mistake early on. I was tweeting that I was on a reshoot for a film, and the studio called and said, "Hey, you can't say we're doing reshoots, because then people will think that the movie's in trouble. It was just something I wrote to give fans access to my life, but then you realize that it's a press release. Nothing bad came of it, but people reacted nervously that it might get picked up and turned into something. But now that everyone is watching Twitter and treats it as a newsfeed, things can get blown up quickly.

Speaking of Twitter, what are your top five mobile apps?
Lately, I've been playing Threes. Let me give a plug to Gwyneth Paltrow with the Goop app. I am beta-testing a Facebook Pages app that they loaded on my phone with a different platform to control your page that's a way to get the robust user interface on your mobile device that you're used to at home. I use IMDb all the time. 1 Second Everydayis a great metaphor for the ADD the young generation feels. They're making Vines that are just six seconds. Now, one second of footage feels too short to get any information. But when you put it all together, it's amazing to see how emotional seeing all those images stacked together is. So I try to do it myself. And, of course, Twitter. Just like in the film, I'm always on Twitter. I am new on Nest, but I'm scared that it's going to cook me in my bed. I do Monopoly, too.

Jon Favreau in Chef

Want a Chef-style cubano? For one week, you can order one through Munchery.com.

(Credit: Merrick Morton)
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