I went in to watch Saif Ali Khan‘s Chef with some basic expectations – some great looking food, fancy dishes and some good old recipes that evoke nostalgia. Garnished with some earnest performances and a heartwarming story. Akin to when we go to a newly opened restaurant that hasn’t been reviewed yet on Zomato. Not expecting the best food experience of our lives and yet hoping that the chef gets the basic yellow daal tadka and the crisp tandoori roti right. Is Saif Ali Khan’s film, directed by Raja Krishna Menon and based on Jon Favreau’s Chef (2014), appeal to the taste-buds or is it a food experience you can avoid? Read my review…

What’s it about?

Roshan Kalra (Saif Ali Khan) realises his calling very early in life. A foodie, who cannot control himself from getting attracted to different aromas emanating from different cuisines, he runs away from home as a 15-year-old to become a chef. The idea of working in a kitchen and feeding people the food he makes and the flavours he creates, takes him to some popular, professional kitchens around the country where he hones his skills. Roshan ends up in a plush restaurant Galli Kitchen in New York City as a head chef. But on his way to realise his dreams, he lets some of the most important relationships get destroyed by the flame of his ambition. Following a heated exchange (and some blows) with a customer, Roshan looses his job as the chef and decides to take a break and head to India. There, he tries to mend his strained relationship with his son Armaan (Svar Kamble) and estranged wife Radha Menon (Padmapriya Janakiraman).

What’s hot?

Saif Ali Khan steals the show with his effortless performance once again in Chef. The actor plays the part with great ease, convincingly portraying the various emotions and life phases of his character. He has been given some juvenile lines just to humour his 13-year-old onscreen kid but the fact that the actor doesn’t go OTT with his father-who-hasn’t-always-been-around act will make you let it pass. There are also ample scenes where he is handing out some important life lessons to his son, but Saif does it with a conviction that doesn’t make the scenes appear preachy or a forced, drag affair.

The casting is on point with Padmapriya playing the divorced, disappointed wife; the very dishy Milind Soman in the shoes of Robert Downey Jr. from the original and Chandan Roy Sanyal as the Chef Saif’s sidekick. Svar Kamble is decent as the kid Armaan but we have seen better child actors in recent times. While there is enough food to keep your taste-buds salivating, Chef also beautifully captures the natural beauty of some small towns in Kerala, evoking wanderlust. And when travel comes as a complimentary side dish with some delectable cuisines, can anyone resist the temptation?

Chef may not be the best film if you are looking to go on a food journey, but it tilts towards the path of exploring one’s inner-self, to find the true calling and happiness. It has an underlying message that nudges you to rethink your definition of love and success.

What’s not?

Unlike Jon Favreau’s Chef, Saif’s film fails to give us a valid reason for why he looses his cool while on the job, gets under his boss’ radar, followed by getting fired. Quite funnily, the people who are shown to act as motivation for him to start anew and not just run after ambition but also correct his relationships, fail to say the right things that one normally say to someone with the view to support. They instead appear to be trolling him for being what he is.

Saif plays a chef, who is allured to a certain way of life due to his love for cooking. And yet, we hardly see him churn out any awe-inspiring dish. I didn’t expect him to cook up a storm like contestants do on MasterChef. I was okay with him cooking a humble spaghetti pasta in Alfredo sauce instead of a spinach and ricotta cheese ravioli. But why not show more variety in food that he could cook? Throughout the film, Saif’s character shows us how his love for food took him away from family. But in the narrative, while he tries to undo this and strengthen his ties with his loved ones, his relationship with food stays ignored. The family could have bonded over some good food, no?

What to do?

Saif Ali Khan’s film struggles to impress with the starters (the beginning), saves the day with the variety in mains (bittersweet emotional journey of food and finding true happiness, spiced up with some fun moments) and steals the show with dessert (ending). This experience of food and life’s varied flavours deserves a try.

Verdict

India.com rating: 3 stars