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 Favreau’s new movie about being a restaurant chef in L.A. What’s his name, and how big of an asshole is he?
Oliver Platt: His name is Ramsey Michel. I don’t know that he’s really such a big asshole. I think Ramsey’s actually quite sensitive. He’s like you in that way. I’m always telling my chef friends that you’re really a nice, charming fellow.
Thank you for that.
Well, they don’t believe me, but it’s 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 don’t mean this as an insult, but some of those guys are much meaner than you.
What’s the meanest thing Ramsey says about Chef Favreau’s cooking?
In the film, the chef, who’s name is Carl Casper, and Ramsey, the critic, get into a Twitter war. It’s supposed to be a kind of social media event, but it turns out that it’s probably not a good idea, from the cook’s 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 that’s being sent back to the kitchen.
He also takes issue with the molten-chocolate lava cake.
It’s not so much the taste of the cake as it is the clichéd, passé idea of it. As I recall, Ramsey suggests that he’d 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 can’t remember. What I remember foodwise about the shoot was the Korean-fusion tacos and sliders from Roy Choi’s famous Kogi food truck. Roy was a consultant on the film, and also one of Jon’s 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, I’ve usually just finished inhaling several Kogi spicy-pork tacos.
Who ate more tacos, you or Favreau?
I’m afraid that’s 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, that’s 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, that’s what Ramsey is too. He’s probably more eager to hype chefs than he is to trash them. He’s an early supporter of Favreau’s character. He’s written many nice things about him, and he’s 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. We’re both up there on stage. We’re 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.
What’s Ramsey’s philosophy on disguises?
I never had to wear a wig, if that’s 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 don’t always dress as nattily as Ramsey does. On the other hand, you might have better table manners.
It’s a tough job, being a restaurant critic, and as I’ve said many times, I’m in awe of what you do.
When did you say that?
Just now. I said it just now. I’m in awe. If I consumed what you have to consume during the course of a week on the job, they’d have to wheel me from one dining establishment to the next, reclining on the back of a giant oxcart.
That’s a lovely image. Our mother’s going to love that image.
Alright, I think we’re done here. I’m hungry. Are you hungry? Let’s go get some lunch.