Food and Social Media Converge in Film at SXSW

A tasty little film that opened this year's SXSW Interactive Festival  says a lot about finding satisfaction in your work — and also presents an important teaching moment in social media.

Jon Favreau's film "Chef" tells the story of a high-profile restaurant chef who makes the transition to food-truck entrepreneur after a painful lesson on the downside of Twitter. On a deeper level, the story will resonate with technologists and other creative professionals who love their craft but find themselves working for the industrial machine. 

Tech and Art

The message struck a chord with the tech-minded audience at the 21st annual South by Southwest gathering, where original music, independent films and emerging technologies converge. The five-day event in Austin ends today.

Favreau, well-known as the director of the first two Iron Man films, wrote and directed the ensemble comedy.The film is about an adventurous chef, Carl Casper (Favreau), who is forced to play it safe by his restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman).

Casper was once Food & Wine magazine’s hottest new chef, acclaimed for his daring creativity. Now he's catering to an audience that demands consistency and familiarity over exploration. Like many content professionals, technologists, UX practitioners or designers, Casper is frustrated by the situation and wants to break through with new and interesting concepts rather than produce the same tired outputs. 

Then a leading food blogger (Oliver Platt) rips Casper for his unimaginative menu, using such harsh words that the review goes viral. 

Casper takes a crash course in Twitter from his 10-year-old son (scene-stealing Emjay Anthony), who is desperate to connect with his father. In his first tweet, Casper sends what he believes is a private message to the blogger but instead starts a flame war that climaxes with an in-restaurant meltdown caught on video by the patrons. 

Forced into seclusion, Casper takes the advice of his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and starts anew with a food truck selling traditional Cuban sandwiches and yucca fries. Casper’s son helps to set up the truck, then manages his social media campaign. 

The son's posts on Twitter, Facebook and Vine quickly attract a cult following in Miami, New Orleans and ultimately right in the heart of Austin, which drew big cheers from the local SXSW crowd that was filled with popular Austin chefs and musicians. 

Casper ultimately finds success and happiness by reconnecting with his craft and creating “food he believes in” which also helps him reconnect with his son, his friends and his community. Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale and Robert Downey Jr. also appear in the star-studded cast.

Deconstructing the Film

Favreau and several other cast members spoke after the screening about the emotion invested in the film. They also said Casper's journey was inspired by real-life events of a chef, who also appeared on stage and in the credits of the film. 

For Favreau, making the film was much like the journey of the chef, creating the earnest story of a man who puts his heart and soul into his creative life. After making the Iron Man films,  Favreau has returned to a simpler film. That said, the actor-director noted the inherent limits of an indie film in terms of generating an audience and a profit.

Even though "Chef" may not be a summer blockbuster after its official release in May, it has a message that speaks to the heart of all creative professionals who seek greatness in their work and their personal lives.