Adam and Oliver Platt on Critics, Chef, and Molten Chocolate Cake

Oliver Platt, channeling his critic brother Adam in Jon Favreau's new movie. Photo: Courtesy of Aldamisa Entertainment

In Jon Favreau's new movie Chef, which had its Tribeca Film Festival debut this week, Oliver Platt plays a key role as a restaurant critic excellent casting, since Oliver just so happens to be the brother of New York's own critic, Adam Platt. The two sat down to talk about the role, how chefs and actors react to reviews, and which critics Oliver looked to when honing his character's particular breed of vitriol.

Adam Platt: So you play an actual restaurant critic in Jon Favreaus new movie about being a restaurant chef in L.A. Whats his name, and how big of an asshole is he?
Oliver Platt: His name is Ramsey Michel. I dont know that hes really such a big asshole. I think Ramseys actually quite sensitive. Hes like you in that way. Im always telling my chef friends that youre really a nice, charming fellow.

Thank you for that.
Well, they dont believe me, but its true. As you know, John and I asked you to help us with some real-life put-down lines when we were shaping the dialogue. For research purposes, you also directed us towards a few of the more savage restaurant critics in London. I dont mean this as an insult, but some of those guys are much meaner than you.

Whats the meanest thing Ramsey says about Chef Favreaus cooking?
In the film, the chef, whos name is Carl Casper, and Ramsey, the critic, get into a Twitter war. Its supposed to be a kind of social media event, but it turns out that its probably not a good idea, from the cooks point of view, to get in a Twitter war with this formidable critic.

In the realm of restaurants, as in the theater world, the less the subject of a nasty review says about the reviewer, usually the better.
At one point, Ramsey says that chef Casper seems to have gotten fat by eating all the food thats being sent back to the kitchen.

He also takes issue with the molten-chocolate lava cake.
Its not so much the taste of the cake as it is the clichéd, passé idea of it. As I recall, Ramsey suggests that hed much rather have the chef sit on his face on a warm day after a brisk walk in the park than have to take another bite of his uninspired chocolate lava cake.

Did you actually have to eat the lava cake?
I cant remember. What I remember foodwise about the shoot was the Korean-fusion tacos and sliders from Roy Chois famous Kogi food truck. Roy was a consultant on the film, and also one of Jons main inspirations, so one of his trucks was on set at all times. In the scenes where you see me pondering this delicious (actually, in most cases, not so delicious) food, Ive usually just finished inhaling several Kogi spicy-pork tacos.

Who ate more tacos, you or Favreau?
Im afraid thats highly sensitive, privileged information.

It seems like the film, understandably, has a very chef-centric view of the critic. I think chefs tend to see us as these big, dramatic, larger-than-life, Godzilla figures who go around torching reputations and stomping on the innocent. In reality, thats not always true.
Chefs are touchy about critics, especially in the small, incestuous, hothouse world of food, and I think they sometimes invest critics with almost too much power. Really what you are, and what all critics are supposed to be, is a consumer advocate, and in the film, thats what Ramsey is too. Hes probably more eager to hype chefs than he is to trash them. Hes an early supporter of Favreaus character. Hes written many nice things about him, and hes had a hand in building his career. Then when the chef sells out to a certain extent, and stops cooking for himself, the critic can smell it. He calls him out on it, and then all hell breaks loose.

Actors tend to be touchy about critics too.
I think you can draw a lot of lines between the actor and the chef. Were both up there on stage. Were both performing for the public. Opening a restaurant in New York or L.A., you talk about high stakes. There are many similarities between doing that and performing on, say, Broadway, so yes, I tend to sympathize with the guy sweating it out behind the curtain.

Whats Ramseys philosophy on disguises?
I never had to wear a wig, if thats what you mean.

Aside from not wearing a wig, what sort of influences did you draw from our dinners together? You do a great job cultivating this lordly look of command on your face when you walk into the restaurant. Your clothes are perfectly tailored. How much of that did you get from me?
Maybe you dont always dress as nattily as Ramsey does. On the other hand, you might have better table manners.

Maybe not.
Its a tough job, being a restaurant critic, and as Ive said many times, Im in awe of what you do.

When did you say that?
Just now. I said it just now. Im in awe. If I consumed what you have to consume during the course of a week on the job, theyd have to wheel me from one dining establishment to the next, reclining on the back of a giant oxcart.

Thats a lovely image. Our mothers going to love that image.
Alright, I think were done here. Im hungry. Are you hungry? Lets go get some lunch.