In FX’s ‘The Bear’, food is the language of love and heartbreak

When we are introduced to Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto at the beginning of the bear, he sleeps in the reserve of The Original Beef of Chicagoland. It was his brother’s restaurant, we will find out, and before that it belonged to his parents. Carmy isn’t the kind of chef you typically find serving up sliced ​​beef for workers on their lunch breaks. We know this because when he returns to his office there is a stack of cookbooks which includes the first volume of Master the art of French cuisine and The Zuni Coffee Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. The empty Fernet-Branca bottles are also a cue, but the cookbooks will be the silent narrative throughout the eight-episode series, signaling to the audience whether a character is buying what Carmy is selling or not.

the bear originally premiered on FX, but now that it’s streaming on Hulu, it’s become a hit with anyone who’s ever worked in a kitchen or written about food debating its accuracy. Although its portrayal of Chicago received (deserved) reviews, the show is still an honest portrayal of work, family, grief, and how treating food as art can clash with need. daily subsistence. Cooking is how the main characters communicate in the bear, and even in the chaos of the kitchen, food represents love. Carmy’s attempt to reinvent The Beef isn’t so much a business plan as an effort to reconfigure her and her family’s life. It’s an attempt at the impossible, really: moving forward in the depths of grief. Carmy doesn’t exactly handle this challenge with grace – he fumbles a few times throughout the season. But this is not a show about perfection. It’s about being able to keep imagining something better, even if everything else around you is burning.

For Millicent Souris, a writer and cook who grew up in the family restaurant in Baltimore, the description of life in the kitchen is deeply recognizable. “I just didn’t argue with it,” she says. “It’s like when the salt content of food is correct and you don’t think about it. It’s just perfect. And I was like, ‘Huh, that’s okay.’

Carmy wants to make The Beef tighter, smoother, cleaner, with more care given to the staple foods that have made people regulars for decades. He’s trying to make it a better restaurant, and he’s doing it in the immediate wake of his brother Michael’s recent death by suicide after a struggle with painkiller addiction.

Breadcrumbs of his impressive professional pedigree are sprinkled throughout the episodes: he was nominated for the Rising Star Chef award from the James Beard Foundation, he was a Food & Wine Best New Chef, and he worked at a restaurant – supposedly New York’s Eleven Madison Park – reputed to be the best in the world. (None of that matters much to most people; in one scene, an older family friend asks him what it’s like to be a “piece of shit” who works in a restaurant. )

Jeremy Allen White as Carmy and Liza Colón-Zayas as Tina in the bear.

Photo: Matt Dinerstein

Despite the glamor of his former life, however, he tells his sister that he had thrown up before switching anxiety. Inside The Beef – a space new to him and old to those around him – he tries to marry the good sides of his rarefied training with his family’s heritage. He wants to fix the restaurant because it’s a way to fix his relationship with his brother.

Everyone who works in the kitchen, from badass “Cousin” Richie Jerimovich (played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach) to chain cook Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) to Marcus (Lionel Boyce) in the baking department and up ‘dishwasher, knew Michael too, and they’re all trying to move on in the midst of loss – a pain that will be recognizable to anyone who has had to go through tragedy rather than take the space to properly grieve, because no one else is around to pay the rent. When Richie slams Carmy’s copy of the Noma cookbook, he scoffs at what he considers too valuable an approach, and he also asks for something in his life to remain the same as when his best friend was alive.

Sydney Adamu, played by Ayo Edebiri, is another new addition to The Beef’s kitchen who comes with training at the Culinary Institute of America and a stint at three-Michelin-starred Alinea on his resume. She sees the restaurant as a site of nostalgia (she would go every Sunday with her dad growing up) and as a place where she would have something real to do, rather than spending six months zesting like she did in a gourmet kitchen restaurant. She quickly becomes Carmy’s ally in an attempt to force order among the staff, but they butt heads over her distance and impatience.

Sydney would love to eat at Noma, so she and Richie are constantly at odds, to the point that she accidentally stabs him before realizing the environment brings out the worst in her and leaves the workplace in a daze. “The scene where Sydney walks out of the restaurant just before service because she’s sick of the bullshit was one of the most realistic scenes,” said former line cook and now private chef Ryan McCarthy, “because that’s usually how it goes.”

the bear pictured lr lionel boyce as marcus, ayo edebiri as sydney adamu cr fx
Lionel Boyce as Marcus and Ayo Edebiri as Sydney in the bear.


This back and forth between skillful cuisine and dirty cuisine, between the old and the new, comes at a particularly complicated moment in the history of food culture. Since the resounding success of Anthony Bourdain in 2000 with Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the culinary underworld, Chefs have been a fascinating figure, appearing on television in increasing numbers, hailed as the new rock stars and put on magazine covers as “food gods”. But since Bourdain’s death and the continued revelations about gourmet kitchens as toxic workplaces, there has been confusion over what exactly to do with this figure who has proven untrustworthy: an emperor. without clothes but a very expensive Japanese chef’s knife in his hand.

Carmy offers a vision of the chef’s future. the bear shows the miserable realities of working in gastronomy – largely through Carmy’s nightmarish memories of being scolded by a hulking, white-clad chef played by Joel McHale – but it also shows he wants to change that pattern. When he yells at the staff in episode seven, he apologizes and continues to encourage Sydney and Marcus to follow through on the new additions to the menu. Here, the intensity is precise, but the response builds towards the possibility of better conditions.

Shannon Roche, a former pastry chef and bakery owner who now runs a large wholesale bakery, recognized the endless sense of urgency that can turn a restaurant kitchen into a powder keg. “The pressure is always there; something is still wrong; the health inspector always comes at the worst possible time, when you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing,” she says. “It all felt really real.”

And so, the show asks, how do you take what’s good about a $300 per person dining experience and apply it to a neighborhood restaurant? How to make every restaurant kitchen a decent place to work? the bear asks these questions against a backdrop of mourning, and therefore also wonders, when the kitchen is our means of communication, how do we use it to heal ourselves and those around us?

When cooking is our means of communication, how do we use it to heal ourselves and those around us?

The character Marcus undergoes the biggest transformation in the series, starting as a baker making sandwich loaves too dense and becoming a pastry chef with pages from Carmy’s cookbooks photocopied and taped to the wall in his section. Doing things from scratch is an eye opener for him, coming from the automation of McDonald’s. His obsession with perfection leads him to start sleeping in restaurants to watch his fermentation projects (extracts of The Noma Guide to Fermentation).

From chocolate cake to donuts, Marcus’ tour down the bakery’s rabbit hole is recognizable to anyone whose notebooks are filled with notes on 15 batches of the same recipe (including, admittedly, me). In Marcus and, to a lesser extent, Tina – who understands the power of mindfulness and herbs through mashed potatoes, and brings tears to their eyes over Carmy’s chicken piccata – the audience sees how born the obsessive chef. In Carmy and Sydney, they see how this obsession can become a source of fear and insecurity.

Sure, the bear is fiction, not a documentary, and so season 2 – which is alluded to in the startling splendor of the final episode – will likely continue to rely on random shootings, blackouts and prison visits for its tension. But I hope that the tenor of the kitchen will remain the same. Souris told me: “People want restaurants to be utopias. They cannot be, because they are places of hard work where human beings are trying to do something. That doesn’t mean they have to be miserable, though.

To Carmy, Sydney and Marcus, the bear has three characters who try to unravel what it means to enjoy cooking and serving food when the professional environment for doing so doesn’t always support people’s best behavior. In them there is a little hope for the future of the leader.

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