Who doesn’t love watching films, documentaries, and TV shows about food? There’s just something about Studio Ghibli’s scenes depicting steaming hot meals and watching Jiro Ono’s steady hands create sushi masterpieces. It’s also weirdly satisfying to binge watch cooking competition shows. Don’t do it on an empty stomach, though.
The food is only as good as the cook who makes it, however. And food means a lot more than just sustenance. Cuisine is a cornerstone of our culture, families, and identities. Like the great Eddie Huang once said, “When it’s done really well, [food]’s the perfect manifestation of existence. I mean, what else in the world literally sustains us and represents us all at the same time?”
This list is dedicated to those movie chefs who made us laugh, cry, and learn more about our own culture’s cuisine. Some of these top chef characters from films are based entirely around their culinary art, and for others it is just a job. For some they cook to bring people together, and for others it is all about serving up some human meat in a pie.
Check out the 16 Best Fictional Chefs In Movie History.
16. Kate from No Reservations
No Reservations is a 2007 romantic comedy directed by Scott Hicks that features an all-star cast, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Abigail Breslin, and Aaron Eckhart.
In No Reservations, Kate Armstrong (Zeta-Jones) is a lead chef at a fancy Manhattan restaurant. Kate is an intimidating character, unafraid to challenge critiques of her dishes. She’s fast-paced, focuses on a perfect display for each dish, and even intimidates her own superior at the restaurant. Kate’s life gets flipped around when her sister dies tragically in an accident and she must care for her young niece Zoe (Breslin). Overwhelmed with the sudden life change, Kate hires a new chef named Nick (Eckhart) who happily works underneath Kate. Chaos and drama ensues at the restaurant and Kate eventually finds herself falling in love with the opera-loving, goofy Nick.
Kate is an inspiring chef character for her unwavering dedication to her art. She is passionate about her profession and if all of the unexpected events in No Reservations had not happened, she would have continued to be a whirlwind of a professional lead chef. Her eventual vulnerability made her human and easy to relate to as well.
15. Primo from Big Night
The 1996 comedic drama Big Night was directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci. A fifties Jersey Shore with a focus on food, this drama is the perfect mix of Italian drama and comedic overtones.
In Big Night, Primo is a genius chef with a focus on perfection who serves as the head chef at their restaurant called Paradise. Primo hates the idea of Americanizing classic Italian food, and the restaurant suffers, business-wise. His brother, Secondo, the businessman behind the operation, is enamored with America and inspired by the opportunities he sees. Drama ensues involving infidelity, job offers that would end their restaurant careers, and the looming option of returning to Italy. In the end, Primo and Secondo get through their struggles together over a plate of frittata.
Primo is a great character with heavy baggage. He accurately represents the struggle of Italian immigrants in the US during the fifties. He wishes to succeed at an art that is wholly Italian and represents his culture and home, but is struggling to survive without Americanizing his art and, in his view, making it false.
14. Remy from Ratatouille
Ratatouille is a 2007 animated comedy from Pixar. It may be weird to be kind of inspired by a cartoon anthropomorphic rat from France, but Remy the rat was indeed quite the inspiring character.
Remy is an ambitious and talented little rat who was separated from his family early on in the film and ends up in the Paris sewers. Remy’s role model is the late chef Auguste Gusteau, who inspired Remy to someday become a chef. Remy finds out that the restaurant once owned by Gusteau is now ruled by the old sous-chef who treats young Alfredo Linguini, a garbage boy for the restaurant, terribly. When Linguini accidentally ruins a soup, Remy sneaks in to fix the dish. The soup is served and proves to be a success, leading the unlikely pair to work together and allow Remy to cook to his heart’s content while helping Linguini become a better chef.
13. Gene from Wet Hot American Summer
If you love tiny jean shorts and irresponsible adults, the 2001 comedy Wet Hot American Summer will definitely be your thing. Despite bombing on its release, the film has gained a cult following. The film features some early performances from big names that include Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, and Amy Poehler.
The film focuses on the staff of Camp Firewood in the early eighties as they prepare for the last day of summer. Camp director Beth (Janeane Garofalo) is balancing her love affair with astrophysics professor Henry (David Hyde Pierce) while trying to make sure none of the kids at her camp die under the poor supervision of obnoxious, neglectful camp counselors who are only focused on their own romantic encounters.
Gene, played by Christopher Meloni of Law and Order: SVU fame, is a Vietnam war veteran who works as the camp’s cook. Gene spent the film wielding cooking knives that he really shouldn’t be near at all, wildly hallucinating talking cans, standing way too close to his apprentice, and giving us some weirdly sexual accidental quips. His screen time is both hilarious and awkward. Also, that bandana and crop top combo was the bomb.
12. Chu from Eat Drink Man Woman
Eat Drink Man Woman is a 1994 Taiwanese film from famed director Ang Lee. The film’s title is derived from a Confucian quote that says “The things which men greatly desire are comprehended in meat and drink and sexual pleasure.” The title really sets the stage for the film, which has themes that surround basic human desires and their acceptance.
In Taipei during the nineties, a widower Chinese chef named Chu (Sihung Lung) is a master of his culinary art who struggles with his relationship with his daughters. All of them have complicated relationships with men, or lack thereof. Throughout the film, all of his daughters encounter new men and go on very different independent storylines. The link between them all are the extravagant Sunday dinners that Chu prepares where all of them eat and talk about their transitioning lives together.
11. Harry from Papadopoulus and Sons
The 2013 British comedic drama Papadopoulos & Sons was directed by indie filmmaker Marcus Markou. The story of Papadopoulos & Sons focuses on a Greek immigrant in Britain named Harry Papadopoulous who finds himself in a rough spot after the banking crisis causes him to lose everything he’s worked for. Originally an ultra successful food industry entrepreneur with a big house and a rich life, Harry isn’t sure how to rise up from the ashes of his former glory. However, he does have the Three Brothers Fish & Chip Shop that he still co-owns with his brother. He moves his family into the flat above the once dormant Three Brothers chippie and struggles to bring the restaurant and his life back to what it once was.
Harry is a great character. He was inspired by Marcus Markou’s cultural roots in Greece and the character shines a light on what a Greek immigrant’s life is like in London. Harry is an inspiring character who showed us that when you lose everything, you are free to blaze your own path.
10. Goro from Tampopo
Tampopo is a 1985 comedy directed by Juzo Itami. The film was promoted as a “ramen western”, playing on the name for Old West films, spaghetti westerns.
Tampopo follows two truckers named Goro (Tsutomo Yamazaki) and Gun (a very young Ken Watanabe) who happen upon a ramen noodle restaurant. After getting into a fight with an unsatisfied customer, Goro wakes up in the home of the ramen shop owner named Tampopo. Tampopo’s dishes are pretty bad, so she asks Goro to mentor her to save her business. The film weaves around the main storyline of Goro, with random stories involving food, including the story of a zombie housewife who rises from the dead to cook her family dinner.
9. Babette from Babette’s Feast
A 1987 Danish drama, Babette’s Feast was direct by Gabriel Axel.
In nineteenth century Denmark, two Protestant sisters live in a little town and run a Pietistic conventicle while struggling to maintain a full congregation of elderly church-goers. The film flashes back several years to the introduction of the titular Babette (Stephane Audran) who appears at the sisters’ door. She comes as a refugee from Paris with a note recommending her as a housekeeper. Despite the sisters’ inability to pay, Babette offers to work for free. For the next decade and half Babette becomes the sisters’ cook, making delectable meals that differed greatly from the bland food they previously ate. Babette’s only connection to her home of France is a lottery ticket she’s held onto for years, which eventually wins her a bunch of money. Instead of returning to Paris, Babette uses the money to fund an extravagant meal for the sisters and the congregation to show her thanks.
8. Nacho from Nacho Libre
The 2006 comedy Nacho Libre was directed by Jared Hess and starred Jack Black. In Nacho Libre, Ignacio/Nacho (Black) is a Lutheran missonary’s son in Mexico. Nacho works as a cook for the monastery orphanage he was raised in. Because of his and the monastery’s poor circumstances, the quality of the food he makes is poor and he cannot make a proper meal for the orphans he cares deeply about. After being robbed of tortilla chips by a street thief, Nacho decides to follow his forbidden dream of becoming a tough luchador. In secret, Nacho teams up with the thief who robbed him as tag partners and they enter luchador matches. Despite being pretty terrible at wrestling, they still get paid for participating and Nacho seeks to use the money to buy better food for the orphans.
Nacho was a hilariously awkward but good-hearted character who stole our hearts during the film. It isn’t clear if he’s the most talented cook, but he did his best to win enough money to feed the orphans he loved good food, all while following his luchador dreams in tight seafoam leggings.
7. Alexandre from Le Chef
The 2012 French comedy Le Chef was directed by Daniel Cohen and starred Jean Reno and Michael Youn. In Le Chef, young Frenchman Jacky (Youn) has been fired from his job at a restaurant. Fearing for the future of his girlfriend and their unborn child, he looks for any job he can get, even if it doesn’t cater to his cooking abilities. He gets a gig as a painter and befriends the business’s chefs and helps them with their meals. Alexandre (Reno) hears of this, and as the renowned chef of a revered restaurant decided to improve his own menu. If he is unable to, the restaurant will lose their credibility and Alexandre and his chefs will be out of a job. Jacky eventually accepts the offer to work with Alexandre, but is quickly fired after they begin to bicker. Alexandre regrets this and hires Jacky back, and hilarity and drama ensues while they work together.
6. Leona from Mystic Pizza
Mystic Pizza, the 1988 coming of age film directed by Donald Petrie, featured an early performance from Julia Roberts, and was Matt Damon’s first major debut. Like many films on this list, Mystic Pizza performed poorly at the box office but eventually gained a cult following.
Two sisters and their friend are the stars of the film, which follows their romances and lives as waitresses at the titular Mystic Pizza. Throughout the film, we see how the girls interact with each other, their rivalries, and how they deal with growing up. The underlying plot of this film follows the Mystic Pizza pizzeria and its visit from a famous food critic called “The Fireside Gourmet”. Despite initially seeming unimpressed and leaving the pizzeria and the cast in suspense, the food critic gives Mystic Pizza the highest possible rating.
Mystic Pizza‘s feisty pizza chef Leona had a fairly small role in the film. She was the mastermind behind the amazing pizza that won the pizzeria the highest possible rating from the famed food critic, but she was also a sort of mother figure to the girls who worked for her.
5. Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a 2007 musical horror film directed by Tim Burton and stars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. The film is an adaptation of a 1979 music of the same name.
In the mid 1800s, barber Benjamin Barker (Depp) arrives in London after spending nearly fifteen years in incarceration for a crime he didn’t commit. The corrupt and scummy judge who sentenced him was obsessed with Benjamin’s wife, and got Benjamin out of the picture. After changing his name to Sweeney Todd, Ben returned to his barber shop above a meat pie shop owned by Mrs. Lovett (Bonham Carter). Ready to embark on a vengeful rampage, Sweeney Todd employs the help of piemaker Mrs. Lovett. He begins to take out his murderous rage on his barbershop customers while plotting the murder of the judge, and Mrs. Lovett bakes the human meat into pies. Apparently human meat is delicious, and her business flourishes.
4 & 3. Julie and Julia from Julie and Julia
The 2009 comedic drama Julie & Julia was directed by Nora Ephron and stars Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. The film’s screenplay was adapted from the book My Life in France by Alex Prud-homme and a memoir by Julie Powell.
In the early 2000’s, Julie (Adams) is a writer who hates her Manhattan job at a call center. To deal with her humdrum life and unpleasant job, in her free time she cooks meals from a French cookbook by Julia Child (Streep) with the goal of completing the cookbook in a year. She blogs about her goal and documents her progress as she goes. The film weaves in and out from Julie’s story to Julia Child’s story in France during the fifties. During this time, Julia attends a renowned cooking school. Their stories are very different, but their struggles are much the same. While one is a world class chef and the other is a young woman devoted to her cooking hobby, both of them are interesting and passionate characters.
2. Stephen Chow from God of Cookery
Stephen Chow is known for his goofy, offbeat, and often bizarre Hong Kong comedy films, such as Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer. God of Cookery is his 1996 creation that mixed comedy with some dark themes. Chow stars as a celebrity chef who is secretly a sham and knows almost nothing about cooking. He had created a big business empire and markets just about any product that can make him money. The cocky and arrogant Chow has an assistant named Bull Tong who is secretly conspiring against him to end his fraudulent schemes. He is successful and Chow now lives on the streets. He meets a food cart owner named Turkey who takes pity on him despite his arrogance. Moved, Chow helps end the rivalry between Turkey and other food cart vendors and unites them. Chow decides to attend culinary school to reclaim his throne legitimately, and all kinds of hilarity ensues.
1. Carl Casper from Chef
The 2014 comedic drama Chef was directed by Jon Favreau, who also stars as Carl Casper in the film. The film has quite the all-star cast, including Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey, Jr.
Carl is a professional chef at a popular Brentwood, California restaurant who quits his job after a public fight with a food critic, and ends up returning back home to Miami to start a food truck business. He seeks to rekindle his relationship with his techie son and takes him on a food truck journey from Florida to California, selling Cuban sandwiches along the way.
Carl was a rough but genuine character who rekindled his love for Cuban cuisine and his relationship with his family. He proved that when you love doing what you do, it doesn’t matter how you do it. Sometimes going back to your roots is all you need, and you can find vibrance and happiness making Cubanos in a food truck.
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