MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Chasing one's dreams, in a food truck

By Nick Roumel

Food is the star of the new movie "Chef," and ready for its close-up. From market to kitchen to table, Jon Favreau's feel-good hit will surely make you hungry-if not impel you to chuck everything and buy a food truck.

Favreau wrote, directed, and stars as a once-promising chef, whose imaginative urges are stifled by restaurant owner Dustin Hoffman, who forbids Favreau from presenting his adventurous tasting menu in favor of the "hits." Hoffman reasons, "If you went to see the Rolling Stones and they didn't play ??Satisfaction,' you'd be upset, right?" Forced to serve commoner's pabulum, like caviar egg, lobster risotto, and molten lava cake, Favreau is fricasseed by restaurant critic Oliver Platt. Favreau confronts Platt in a comical meltdown that goes viral, then quits in principled disgust to return to his creative roots.

The second half of the movie features Favreau, with his former sous chef John Leguizamo and adorable son Emjay Anthony, having a joyful time cooking and serving from a beautifully restored food truck called "El Jefe" (The Boss)-all to an infectiously happy Latin-themed musical soundtrack. The movie is bursting with good feelings, as Favreau reunites with his ex-wife, reconnects with his son, and redeems himself with the critic who had destroyed his career. It is definitely an enjoyable ride.

There is one big problem: the food that Favreau decides to sell from his truck in Miami? His "back to creative roots" lovingly crafted dish? It's a freaking Cuban sandwich! Now I love a good Cubano as much as the next guy, but there are about 20,000 places in Miami alone that sell these things, from restaurants to gas stations. It's the southeastern equivalent of pizza. Put another way, this movie was like a musical genius quitting his band over artistic differences, in order to tour with Justin Bieber.

Not that Favreau doesn't show his chops. To prepare for this movie, he went to culinary school and was tutored by a Food and Wine Magazine "Best New Chef" Roy Choi, founder of the Kogi food truck empire, and owner of four Los Angeles restaurants. Favreau has gained a new appreciation for cooking, even installing a full-scale commercial kitchen at his home, along with a wood-fired pizza oven and smoker.

And even if it's common, you'll definitely want one of his Cubanos.

Mojo Pork Cubanos

Roy Choi, "Food & Wine"

? 6 ounces thinly sliced boiled ham

? Softened butter, for brushing

? Six 6-inch-long soft baguettes or heroes, split lengthwise

? Yellow mustard, for brushing

? 3/4 pound thinly sliced Mojo-Marinated Pork Shoulder*, or store-bought roast pork

? 1/2 pound thinly sliced Swiss cheese

? 3 half-sour dill pickles, thinly sliced lengthwise

1. Heat a large cast-iron griddle or panini press. Add the ham slices to the griddle and cook over moderate heat, turning once, until browned in spots, about 1 minute. Transfer the ham to a plate.

2. Generously butter the cut sides of each baguette and toast on the griddle over moderate heat until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the baguettes to a work surface and generously brush the cut sides with mustard. Layer the ham, pork, Swiss cheese and pickles on the baguette and close the sandwiches.

3. Generously brush the out-side of the sandwiches with butter and set them on the griddle or press; if using a griddle, top the sandwiches with a large baking sheet and weigh it down with heavy cans or a cast-iron skillet. Cook the sandwiches over moderate heat until they're browned and crisp on the outside and the cheese is melted, 3 minutes per side on a griddle or 3 minutes total in a press. Cut the cubanos in half and serve hot.

Enjoy with a crisp, hoppy pale ale or a Mexican Coca-Cola. Just don't think too hard about it.

* You can find Choi's Mojo Marinated Pork Shoulder recipe at http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/mojo-marinated-pork-shoulder

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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at http://mayitpleasethepalate.blogspot.com/.

Published: Tue, Jul 15, 2014

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