‘The Bear’ Forgoes the Glamour of the Kitchen and Reveals its Toxicity | Review


These days, it’s difficult not to throw a stone and hit some kind of documentary or miniseries that highlights the mystique of creating and crafting delicious food. It’s not just cooking; someone is creating art. And it’s that exact mindset that glamorizes and romanticizes the food industry. Sure, there are definitely pockets of the industry that thrive without anyone being crushed under the boot heel of a business that can be on top of the world one day and collapse the next. Christopher Storer‘s new series The Bear examines the aftermath of said crushing. Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) has returned home to his native Chicago to pick up running his family shop after the suicide of his older brother Mikey (Jon Bernthal). At his side is a cast of characters who fill out the family shop called, somewhat perfectly, The Original Beef of Chicagoland.


His brother’s best friend Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is the old guard, not content with any of Carmy’s new changes, and attempts to modernize the joint. The newbie is Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), an ambitious and creative young chef who was also trained in traditional fine dining restaurants like Carmy. Kitchen workers are Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), an acerbic cook who does not like Sydney but eventually takes on a maternal role in the kitchen; Marcus (Lionel Boyce), an enthusiastic pâtissiere who finds joy in creating the best chocolate cake or perfect donut, even if he is rather green; Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson), more the strong silent type than anything else; and then actual Canadian celebrity chef Matty Matheson sliding in as the friendly Fak, who acts as a jack-of-all-trades fixing things around the restaurant with some duct tape and hope. For those who peruse the internet and fall down rabbit holes on YouTube, Matheson is a familiar face and one that lends a bit of credibility to the series.

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Of course, it’s not just Matheson. Anyone who has even dipped a toe into the restaurant world and the booming industry around fine dining will be familiar with the vocabulary that’s being thrown around. You might be familiar with the Michelin star system, but do you know about the James Beard award? The show name-drops major restaurants; Carmy comes from a highly impressive pedigree, having worked at spots like Eleven Madison Park, The French Laundry, and Noma, with the latter named the best restaurant in the world multiple times. Sydney is no less impressive having nabbed jobs at the Chicago star Alinea and Avec.

You might say it’s easy to get the words right, but there’s action behind it all as well. It’s very clear that they’re doing their research with this series. The movements, the rhythms, and the anxiety – it doesn’t just speak to the fact that Carmy is a chef who comes from fine dining, but it also speaks to the fact that Carmy is now running a humble sandwich shop nestled between some buildings in Chicago. White’s performance of Carmy is spot on; he’s demanding, manic, and a bit desperate. He’s gone from a proverbial Ferrari to riding a bike with a bad tire. On top of cooking, he’s got to start restructuring the entire restaurant to actually make it profitable, which is damn near impossible when they’re swimming in inherited debt.

The series gets all the cooking right. It aptly puts a spotlight on the incredibly intense and unforgiving atmosphere in some of the best kitchens in the world. It’s militant, abusive, and jealous – you can rise to the very top and someone might still kick you down off your pedestal and no one will even glance behind at the wreckage. For Carmy, that world might have been there for him to prove himself, but the whole reason he gets into cooking is because of Mikey. Bernthal, who is unfortunately not in enough of this series, is a spark of bright light to ground Carmy when he does appear, giving us an understanding of him and of Richie.

Moss-Bachrach, who is a frequent collaborator with Bernthal, is not a chef, and it stands to reason that the guy probably can’t cook anything too well. But he’s an advocate for the old way of doing things, and he too is devastated by the loss of Mikey. He was clearly close with the brothers, as they call each other “cousin” despite having no blood relation. But it isn’t about blood, Richie was best friends with Mikey and that meant something. While White slips into the skin of the chef perfectly, it is Moss-Bachrach that grounds the heart of the series. His conversations with Carmy give us the biggest insight into their past and the relationships between the three men.

Edebiri and Boyce are also a dynamic duo in the kitchen, though one that is sadly underutilized in this first season. Edebiri’s Sydney is plucky, determined, and right most of the time. Having suffered a blow to her ego before arriving at The Beef, she’s very eager to prove herself. As Carmy’s sous chef, she manages the kitchen even when the staff won’t give her the time of day. On the other side of the coin is Boyce’s Marcus, who is a familiar face at The Beef, but a pastry chef who is still learning. He doesn’t know how to make gourmet donuts, but he’s willing to put in the man-hours to learn how. The series does a good job of having us follow their story, get invested, and then have our hearts broken when things go wrong for them, all the while hoping that they will see success again.

Underneath the sizzle of a plancha, the clatter of plates, and the prep of the mise en place is a story about overcoming the grief of losing a loved one and the trauma of an abusive environment, and this is evident in Carmy, Sydney, and Richie. Their restaurant is an underdog’s story, but sometimes the biggest hurdle they have to overcome is themselves. As the season unravels, we find out just why these characters are so damaged (with a surprise appearance from a very sinister Joel McHale), and discover that the show is not really about food. There aren’t any shots of beautiful food in slow motion to get your mouth watering, so you forget all about the issues in the kitchen. The food we do see is on the beautiful, if somewhat sterile, white plates used in fine dining. We see colorful, artistic, other-worldly dishes, but behind them, we know there is someone who is being degraded, pushed to their very edge, to seek not only perfection but perfection that has no definition.

The Bear uses success as a weapon. You’ll cut yourself trying to reach for it, or you might hurt someone else once you have it. It encapsulates the business perfectly in a way that anyone who has spent time in a kitchen or been around chefs (as yours truly has) will find disturbingly familiar. It’s difficult to classify The Bear as a comedy, since so much of the humor revolves around a pretty desperate situation, but sometimes finding the absurdity or exasperating ridiculousness of a situation is the only way you can laugh off a day when you’ve been on your feet, in front of a fire, and covered in burns, cuts, and bruises that go further than skin deep.

Rating: B+

Season 1 of The Bear is currently available to stream on Hulu.

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