Ali Wong plays a celebrity chef who reconnects with old flame Randall Park in the Netflix romantic comedy.

By Adam Campbell-Schmitt
May 31, 2019
(c) 2018 Ed Araquel

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that celebrities are actual people, too, with trials, tribulations, and romantic entanglements that don’t necessarily make the tabloids. It’s a concept that’s been explored in romantic comedies time and again, from Notting Hill to America’s Sweethearts (okay, so maybe just in Julia Roberts movies), and in the new Netflix romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe, it’s a celebrity chef who navigates personal relationships while her professional life is cooking all burners.

Food is both central and incidental to the plot. Chef Sasha Tran (Ali Wong) is rising star — even a Food & Wine Best New Chef — who’s on the cusp of opening two new restaurants and receiving an “innovator of the year award” (again, from Food & Wine) while reconnecting with her childhood friend Marcus (Randall Park). To add a dash of reality to Sasha's fictional kitchens, chef Niki Nakayama of n/naka consulted on the film, including creating much of the food seen on-camera and even submitting her own insider jokes for the dinner scene at an over-the-top restaurant, as she told the San Francisco Chronicle. To that end, the dishes provide a familiar, humorous, and sometimes all-too-real backdrop for the film's main focus: The love story.

As a child, Sasha’s parents aren’t around much, busy tending to their store, so she’s forced to become self-sufficient, making and eating dinners of Spam and rice alone. But as the film opens, a young Sasha is invited over to her neighbor Marcus’s house for dinner where his mom Judy takes her under her wing. Later, just before Sasha and Marcus are about to head off to college, Judy’s untimely death brings them closer together before driving a wedge that sees these two best friends split apart for the next decade of their lives. When Sasha, now a famed L.A. chef, returns to San Francisco to open a new restaurant en route to yet another project in New York, a (coerced) run-in with Marcus sets off a series of events that lead to a hilarious and heartwarming series of events.

That's not to say the movie isn't as delicious as it is charming. Here are five of my favorite food scenes from Always By My Maybe:

Gubi Chairs

As Sasha and her right-hand woman Veronica get things in order at Saintly Fare, the restaurant’s designer (Casey Wilson), won’t stop saying “Gubi chairs” as she describes the seating choices for each area of the dining room. (For reference, here are a bunch of Gubi chairs.) While it’s probably a great brand, it suffers from having one of those perfect names that, when repeated over and over, just can’t help but sound funny.

“Transdenominational Vietnamese Fusion”

Sasha’s Los Angeles restaurant, Knives + Mercy, is described as “nondenominational Vietnam fusion” whereas the San Fransisco restaurant will be “a step up from that: Transdenominational.” It’s not just a satirical take on the way we attempt to define cuisine, it’s also the source of an important argument between Marcus and Sasha later in the film when the idea of “elevated” versus “authentic” food is questioned (admittedly, both of those terms can be problematic). Marcus insists Asian food isn’t meant to be served in a shot glass, but rather “in a big-ass bowl.” Sasha, as it turns out, will prove there’s room for all kinds of approaches, even within her own restaurant empire.

Marcus hates hors d'oeuvres

At a benefit gala, Marcus — who already showed up underdressed and must wear a loaner blazer — feels out of place enough, but as servers offer up trays with items like quail egg parfait and lamb carpaccio with caesar ice cream, he rejects them, not with polite platitudes like most of us would do, but with lines like "absolutely not, thank you" and "I'd rather shoot myself in the face, thanks." If you’ve ever been to a party where you just weren’t feeling the apps, it’s a cathartic moment to watch.

Judy teaches Sasha

Sasha’s parents aren’t around much, busy tending to their store, so even as a child she’s forced to become self-sufficient, making and eating dinners alone. But as the film opens, Sasha is invited over to her neighbor Marcus’s house for dinner where his mom Judy is making kimchi jun. Judy teaches Sasha Korean cooking techniques like making dumplings and using scissors “for everything,” fostering a love of the culinary arts that will eventually become Sasha’s career and, as the final scene of the movie proves, provide a sense of comfort and home.

Dinner with Keanu

Spoiler alert: Keanu Reeves is in this movie, taking the role of Sasha’s rebound from her breakup with wealthy restaurant investor Brandon (played by Daniel Dae Kim). On a double date with Marcus and his girlfriend Jenny (Vivian Bang), the quartet sits down for a dinner at Maximal which is basically one of those restaurants that teeters on the line between innovative and excruciatingly overwrought dishes. As the waiter arrives, Reeves’s character asked if they have any dishes that “play with time, the concept of time?” Of course they do. Who’s up for “the flavor of Caesar salad” or some fish dandruff?

“Always Be My Maybe” is currently available on Netflix.

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