(Photo: Open Road Films)
Trust us: If you’re going to watch Jon Favreau’s excellent new movie Chef, don’t go on an empty stomach. Co-produced by Los Angeles food-truck legend Roy Choi (of Kogi BBQ fame), the film takes Favreau on the ultimate food-lover’s road trip across America, from Miami to Venice, with stops in New Orleans and Austin in between.
Hungry? Here’s how to recreate his delicious journey.
After ditching his job at a pretentious and boring white-tablecloth LA restaurant, chef Carl Casper (Favreau) heads to Miami and finds inspiration at the legendary Versailles Restaurant — their Cuban sandwiches (a spectacular marriage of sweet ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on perfectly toasted bread) spur him to start the El Jefe food truck. Pair your own sandwich with a cafe con leche and get a traditional guava-filled pastry for dessert.
Guava pastries at Café Versailles. (Photo: Visit Florida/Flickr)
Casper (Favreau) becomes El Jefe of South Beach. (Photo: Open Road Films)
And while Casper is too busy slinging sandwiches on the sand to eat in South Beach, there are plenty of spots there that share his worldview — and would appeal to any up-and-coming chef. At Tongue & Cheek, chef/owner Jamie DeRosa (who’s worked in the kitchens of Wolfgang Puck, Heston Blumenthal, and Geoffrey Zakarian), serves aggressive, inventive new-new American food like chicken-skin chicharronés with bacon-sriracha aioli and beef-cheek burgers with cheddar pimento cheese.
Over at the hip Freehand Miami hostel’s Broken Shaker bar, cocktail wizards Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta — fixtures at the area’s luxury hotels and food-festival afterparties — offer daily-changing, fruit-and-botanical-filled festive punch bowls that attract a culinary-world crowd. And at the Boulan hotel, Vegas/LA nightlife ace Cy Waits has opened Adoré, a sexy and exclusive club perfect for late-night revelers like famous chefs decompressing after a long night in the weeds.
A punch a day keeps the doldrums away at the Broken Shaker. (Photo: yonolatengo/Flickr)
There’s no better place than New Orleans, where eating is culture, to immerse yourself in a major theme of the movie — food is about family and love and unforgettable experiences, food is about everything. As Casper tells his son while they’re walking through the French Quarter clutching their powder-sugar-covered bounty from Café Du Monde, “Eat it slow. You’re never going to taste your first beignet again.”
Once you’re at Cafe Du Monde, it’s a short walk to a gorgeous fried oyster po’ boy at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen and then the revered Gumbo Shop. Grab a heaping bowl of seafood gumbo or the even-better crawfish etouffee and eat it slow.
Sugar and chicory spice and everything nice. (Photo: Viewminder/Flickr)
Casper gets brisket from Franklin Barbecue (lauded as America’s best by Bon Appétit), which he uses to make sliders with Kings Hawaiian bread. If you can endure waking up early and standing in line for what can be more than an hour, pitmaster Aaron Franklin’s brisket, ribs, sausage, and pulled pork will remind you why no-frills Texas barbecue is better than any other slow-cooked meat in the world.
Austin also has a thriving food truck scene. Top Chef winner Paul Qui’s Eastside King serves pork-belly buns and Thai fried chicken while the vintage airstream trailer of Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts. offers over-the-top fried-to-order dough bombs topped with both savory and sweet options. Standouts include the Funky Monkey (grilled bananas, cream-cheese icing, brown sugar) and Flying Pig (bacon with maple syrup icing).
Pork belly buns at East Side King. (Photo: East Side King/Facebook)
In the final act of the film, Casper makes a triumphant return to L.A., where he parks at the food-truck lot outside The Brig bar on Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Choi’s Kogi BBQ truck, still dazzling huge crowds with its Korean-Mexican tacos, parks there often. And on Abbot Kinney First Fridays, Kogi is joined by trucks like Border Grill (modern Mex) and Lobsta Truck (lobster rolls). It’s a great way to sample a lot of the city’s best food — like a crisp charred slice of squash blossom pizza (with burrata, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes) at nearby Gjelina Take Away.
Roy Choi and the Kogi BBQ truck. (Photo: Corbis Outline)
Given Choi’s involvement with the movie, it’d be best to involve yourself with his other restaurants, besides Kogi. Nearby in Venice, Sunny Spot serves Caribbean-inspired food plus a Sunday brunch featuring Cuban tortas and unlimited rum punch. Not far in Culver City, the chef has just started all-you-can-eat pancakes (six options, including one with fried chicken) for weekend brunch and Monday dinner at A-Frame. The restaurant’s “cracklin’” beer can chicken (with kimchi, red and green salsa, and a century egg) and loco-moco style Westside plate lunch are fantastic, too.
Rum punch Sunday brunch at Sunny Spot in Venice. (Photo: Sunny Spot)
To come full circle, the scenes at the restaurant Casper leaves were shot at Hatfield’s in Hollywood, a fine-dining destination with a seasonal prix fixe that currently includes kanpachi sashimi and 36-hour short ribs. Proprietors Quinn and Karen Hatfield have a Michelin star, but they’re hardly snooty. They also run Sycamore Kitchen, a low-key bakery/cafe on La Brea Avenue with a salted caramel pecan babka roll that would be welcome on our plate — or in in any food truck — any day.
Seasonal prix fixe, year-round gorgeous at Hatfield’s in Hollywood. (Photo: Hatfield’s)
Andy Wang is founder of Consortium Projects HQ, a custom publishing firm specializing in luxury real estate, destinations, and food.