Jon Favreau is considered a bona fide name among comic books fans. He’s the man who directed the first Iron Man, effectively launching the plethora of super hero movies we all got accustomed to in the past few years. He’s the one who created the foundation for the whole Marvel universe in cinema with the making of that first movie, which wowed both critics and audiences.

The path to become a world wide acclaimed director has been long and arduous for Favreau. He was born in Queens, New York. His mother was Jewish and his father is a Catholic of Italian and distant French-Canadian heritage. Favreau considers himself very much Italian-American but the loss of his mother to leukemia when he was very young led him to eventually embrace Judaism over his father’s religion. He started off as an actor, doing primarily extra work, often trying to catch the attention of the cameras, a big no-no for any day-player who doesn’t have a line in the movie, as he later recalled in his tv-series Dinner for five.

It was at the time when he had moved to Chicago after briefly working for Bear Stearns on Wall Street, luckily leaving a week before Black Monday. That was when he met fellow actors and future friends Ron Livingston and Patrick Van Horn, while constantly going to auditions. Favreau landed his first role in 1993 in the sports film Rudy and on that set he bonded with Vince Vaughn. Three years later and after moving to Los Angeles, Favreau realized how hard it was to get the good roles so he started writing a screenplay for himself and his friends called Swingers.

What started as an exercise to try out the screenwriting software his dad gave him as a gift later became a cult classic. The story was essentially about the first six months of living in Hollywood. Favreau was also going through a painful break up from his then girlfriend who stayed back in Chicago and that all ended up in the script. That film represented the breakthrough role for both Vaughn and Favreau and it opened the doors to features and tv, like in the case of the popular sit-com Friends. On the show the actor played Monica Geller’s boyfriend who competes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship over the course of six episodes. He is often amazed how that little stint on Friends is what people most remembers him from, still to this day.

As an Italian-American, legendary boxer Rocky Marciano had always been a hero of Favreau and in 1999 he got to portray him in the titular film. Playing the undefeated world heavyweight champion was a dream come true and it put him to work next to Jimmy Nickerson who had coordinated the fight scenes in Rocky and Raging Bull. But his real life dream had yet to be fulfilled. Although he kept working in front of the camera he pined for a chance at directing. He knew he would be more at ease with calling the shots and really be a storyteller. He busted his chops on Made which reunited him with Vaughn and was seen as a sort of follow-up to Swingers, albeit with different characters and theme.

Finally in the fall of 2003 he scored a big box office success as a director with the Christmas comedy Elf starring Will Ferrell and James Caan. Having one of the guys from The Godfather on set was an experience within itself. “He’s got a great sense of humor,” says Favreau. “He was very familiar to me, being from Queens. I’m Jewish and Italian, and he’s Jewish and everybody thinks he’s Italian. So there’s a familiarity”.

Given his family traditions food plays an important role in the filmmaker’s life. In fact his latest film, which premiered at SXSW film festival, is called Chef and it is without a doubt a passion project. In the past few years Favreau has been obsessing on cooking shows to the point of appearing as a guest judge on Top Chef. After constantly watching how to prepare unique and flavorful dishes he decided to try to learn some recipes on his own. Italian recipes being the first choice.

“My favorite is cacio e pepe right now,” he says. The film stars Favreau himself as the lead along side Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman and the real Chef Roy Choi. It’s the story of a chef who loses his job at a failing restaurant and decides to start from scratch, re-imagining his life and profession as the maker of Cubano sandwiches off a food truck. He says he didn’t feel this inspired since he wrote Swingers and there’s definitely a lot of anticipation for this film, which will more than likely also explore the subculture of the food truck craze that captivated Angelenos in recent years.

Receive more stories like this in your inbox