A handful of food industry heavy hitters made last night’s sold-out screening of Jon Favreau’s film, “Chef,” a star-studded Boston affair.
Food & Wine deputy editor Christine Quinlan, “Top Chef” judge and Food & Wine special projects director Gail Simmons , and “Top Chef” judge and chef Tom Colicchio, each attended the film’s dinner viewing party held at the Revere Hotel — and Favreau himself, the director/writer/star, appeared via video.
Quinlan hosted the sold-out event in the hotel’s Theatre 1, where a $45 ticket earned each of the 250 attendees a seat during the screening and a Barry Maiden-made dinner of cubano sandwiches (with a side of black beans) and freshly fried churros. Maiden, the owner and chef at Cambridge eateries Hungry Mother and State Park, was dubbed one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2009 and won the James Beard Award for best chef (Northeast) in 2013.
Attendees were also offered a variety of treats including freshly popped popcorn, an array of cocktails, beer, and wine, and a fully-stocked goody bag of candy made by Quinlan herself.
The cubano sandwich tied directly into the film, which centers on Favreau’s character, Carl Casper, a Food & Wine Best New Chef winner who’s struggling to stay afloat in the competitive Los Angeles restaurant scene a decade after earning the honor.
After leaving his permanent gig at a Los Angeles restaurant in a rather dramatic and life-altering fashion (owned by Dustin Hoffman’s fickle character Riva), Casper goes to Miami to explore his culinary roots and tries his hand at food truckery. With his longtime line cook (John Leguizamo) and son (Emjay Anthony) by his side, Casper creates a menu of Little Havana-inspired cuisine, including (you guessed it), the cubano.
The movie was introduced by Quinlan, who is originally from the Boston area and was seeing the film in its entirety for the first time. Before the screening, Quinlan spoke with Boston.com and she dished on the details of Food & Wine’s partnership with the Revere, as well as what goes into selecting the magazine’s 10 “Best New Chefs” every year.
Q: How long have you been at Food & Wine? I think you have ties to Boston, too, right?
A: “I do! I’m from Boston. I’m very happy to be home. Always happy to be home in Boston. I’ve been at the magazine about nine and a half years. I’m the deputy editor, so I do a lot of different things: A lot of the big picture stuff for the brand, from the magazine to the website to books, issue themes, story ideas, a lot of packaging, and then every once in a while, a fun event like this and the festivals and things that we do.
We loved this setup, and had been wanting to do something with the hotel, and thought this is perfect, because we have the story in our May issue, and that was very specific because that’s when the movie was opening. We thought...‘We’ll kind of do Food & Wine live.’
And then, the timing — again just a coincidence — with the new season of “Top Chef,” which is going to be based here. They’re here filming, so Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio are coming tonight, [which is] a nice little surprise.”
Q: What goes into selecting the “Best New Chefs” every year at Food & Wine?
A: “Every year we name the 10 Best New Chefs in the country. We start out saying 10, oftentimes it’s duos so it might actually be 12, but it represents 10 restaurants. All of those chefs have to have been in charge of a menu in a kitchen for five years or fewer, so that it’s not just the restaurant they’re at now, it’s cumulative.
It’s really about rising stars and up-and-coming talent. We’ve been doing this since 1988, so for a long time. Looking back, I feel like we’ve got a pretty good track record at identifying talent. Thomas Keller was in our first class, Nobu [Matsuhisa] was an early Best New Chef, Tom Colicchio, and a lot of people that are household names now. I’d say we’ve done a pretty good job, and we’ve had a lot of great Boston chefs over the years from Gordon Hamersley to Michael Schlow to Barry Maiden who’s doing the food for us tonight, to Matthew Gaudet, Marc Orfaly — lots and lots of them over time.
It’s a really fun process. Editors spend a lot of time traveling all over the country eating, then we come back and sort of talk it out. Some years it feels like it’s so obvious, ‘these are the 10,’ and then other years, it’s a little bit more you’re making a case, and you’ve got a bigger pool, and you’re trying to narrow it down. You’re looking at eligibility and things too. Like we said, if it’s five years or fewer and someone’s two years in, you know you’ve got a little time, but if someone’s five years in, sometimes it’s like ‘This could be our only shot.’”
Q: Was the concept for “Chef” pitched to you by a production company? Did Food & Wine have any part in the creation of the film?
A: “The movie is Jon Favreau’s entirely, but he’s aware of Food & Wine and Best New Chefs, and the food consultant on the film was Roy Choi out in L.A., and he was a Best New Chef. I think Jon realized that in the industry, it’s sort of a big deal, and it can be a real launching pad for a lot of chefs, so it would be pretty common that that might be a resume item for somebody.
Everything that [Favreau] did in terms of the research was trying to be really true to chefs and to the profession so, he thought that might be a really great calling card or like I said, resume item, and that it made a lot of sense. He wanted the character to have been a Best New Chef.
A lot of [Favreau’s] research even came through “Top Chef” because he was a guest judge, and he’s so funny when he talks about it, because he’ll go and he checks out tattoos because in the movie he’s got a lot of tattoos (not real), but he wanted to see where everybody had cuts and burns so that they were really true to the characters, and that’s what he did to his arms. That was kind of him being method or getting into character. Those little details were so important to him, and we really appreciate that. The chefs we talked to who have seen it, I think that’s what they really appreciate, having watched it thinking like, ‘God, he nailed it. He gets us.’”
Q: Is there anything about the movie or the movie-making process that people would be intrigued to hear about?
A: “Jon was just so focused on this. Everything he did with Roy — I mean he worked on the line with Roy in his restaurants in L.A. He was at the CIA [Culinary Institute of America] for about a week training, he really spent the time. He didn’t want to look stupid at any point in the movie, and he wanted to look like he was holding the knife properly...and all that was important. It’s gotten him really excited, and it sounds like he’s continued to cook and travel around eating and trying to introduce his kids to it, and he cooks with his kids. It’s really something that he had somewhat of a passion for before, but he understands it so much more.”