Beauty inside

‘The Bear’ on Hulu is right about restaurant kitchens

People like to check facts from works of fiction. Don’t run a doctor on “Grey’s Anatomy” or a New Yorker on that “JFK Express” train to Grand Central Terminal in the new John Wick movie. It therefore seems significant that cooks and food people connect with Hulu’s “The Bear” instead of nitpicking.

FX/Hulu’s exhilarating series follows Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), a gourmet chef who inherits his family’s greasy spoon, as he tries to grapple with the company’s mutinous staff and precarious finances. failing sandwich shop – and its own abundant demons. “The Bear” is right about restaurant kitchens. Almost all of the action takes place in the home of the Original Beef of Chicagoland, the Chicago sandwich that fell into Carmy’s hands after the suicide of his older brother.

Even before viewers digest the essential truths about restaurant life that “The Bear” captures, they are immersed in the visual patois of a professional kitchen. Here, plastic food containers are used for just about everything, including drinking water and cleaning the floor. An old and noisy Hobart mixer is perpetually broken down. Carmy’s office is littered with unpaid invoices and notices, the detritus of a failing business — as well as half-empty bottles of Fernet-Branca and Pepto-Bismol, two common sips in the food world .

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The team avoid collisions by shouting “corner” and “behind” as they navigate around each other and blind spots in a kitchen maze. Jokes and F-bombs permeate the air like steam from braised chunks of meat in the massive range. Everyone is always in the weeds.

The show also uses the sounds of a kitchen to transport the viewer inside the belly of the Ox, as the family restaurant is called. The opening sequence of the first episode is preceded by a black screen and the click-click-click-woosh of a lit gas burner, a sonic flourish that captures both the setting and the combustible undercurrent that runs through the series – the sense that at any moment it could all just explode. Elsewhere, we hear knives banging against cutting boards, pots clanking on stoves, onions sizzling in pots and the ticking of the clock signaling the start of service.

The characters also reflect a more nuanced view of the people who prepare the food than we’ve seen in many other portrayals of restaurants on the small and big screen. It takes the tropes of bosses we’re used to seeing on screen – especially in the brooding and relentless Carmy – to subvert them. Carmy may look like a Kitchen Confidential-era Anthony Bourdain knockoff, all tattoos, wild hair and a sharp temper, but he doesn’t aspire to be the kind of author whose genius excuses the abuses he inflicts on his staff. . (Expect to see more of this archetype, taken to the extreme, in the next horror film “The Menu”, in which Ralph Fiennes plays a divine leader whose minions spring to attention with every hit.)

In Carmy’s kitchen – at least the one he tries to create – great food is the work of a functional team, with everyone contributing. He knows he can’t do it alone, so he enlists Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), a recent culinary school graduate, an ambitious and talented but green chef who offers a vision of what the restaurant could be. “It doesn’t have to be a place where the food is s—ty and everyone is acting s—ty,” she says.

Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a tough bigmouth who was best friends with Carmy’s late brother, is the avatar of the toxic restaurant kitchen culture that is perhaps all too real. He mocks one of Carmy’s culinary touchstones with a homophobic slur, “Escoffi-gay”, and he refers to Sydney as “sweetheart”. But even Richie is shown in all his complicated fullness. Behind his bluster, he knows he’s a fool and a failure, and he’s really sorry about that.

“The Bear” is not a starry-eyed love letter to the profession. Still, he offers plausible and sympathetic explanations for why someone would choose such a physically grueling and emotionally harrowing life. In a seven-minute monologue delivered in confession to an Al-Anon group, Carmy explains how her culinary ambition began as a way to prove herself to her charismatic brother. Eventually, his punitive career became an escape from their strained relationship, satisfying something inside him even as it pushed him further into isolation. “The kitchen routine,” he says, “was so consistent and demanding and busy and tough and lively, and I lost track of time, and it died.”

Sydney offers another, less gloomy motivation for all the sweat, late nights and anxiety that comes with chasing something close to perfection. In a sweet scene with Marcus (Lionel Boyce), the restaurant’s unlikely pastry chef, she recalls having dinner with her family as a child, something that felt special even though the food wasn’t Michelin quality. . “That’s what I want,” she said. “I want to cook for people and make them happy.”

Which, of course, isn’t always so easy. Fortunately, “The Bear” viewers can see the beauty of wrestling.