How ‘The Bear’ FX created life in restaurant kitchens

The world of “The Bear” is built from the kitchen.

Premiering Thursday, the FX series dives headlong into the frenetic pace of life in a professional kitchen as prodigal son and chef, Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (‘Shameless’ star Jeremy Allen White), returns from one of the New York’s most famous restaurants. institutions to take over his family’s Italian beef sandwich shop in Chicago. It’s a swirling reflection of grief and growth inside the powder keg of a cramped kitchen, driven by the ideas of professional chefs, the show’s creator, and months of directing — or training. – in restaurants.

In the wake of her brother’s death, Carmy leads a group of old-school sandwich workers in building a new, more technical Beef and capturing the culinary chops of a chef who has dedicated his life at the Gospel of Noma, the French Laundry and Eleven Madison Park, White needed all the help he could get.

“‘We have to put Jeremy in the kitchen,'” writer and director Joanna Calo said of the show’s top priority. “We weren’t quite sure if it was possible, but it was really the dream, like if you were making a movie where people are dancing or ice skating – you wish you didn’t have to cut.

Authenticity was at the heart of series creator Chris Storer (“Ramy”, “Eighth Grade”), who is not only an avid cook himself, but has also long been drawn to depicting the culinary arts. ; previous projects include a short documentary with Thomas Keller, as well as a documentary about Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson’s community restaurant, Locol. His sister, Courtney Storer – a former chef at Jon & Vinny’s – served as a food producer.

“He wanted to do a show that was true to the back house, that was true to the culinary world, and he knew that to do that everyone had to practice,” White said. “It is extremely important for chefs, cooks, people who work in kitchens and restaurants that everything rings true. I think we can both congratulate each other a little if we can walk into restaurants and get some winks. eyes of line cooks.

While Lionel Boyce, who plays Marcus, the beef baker turned pastry chef, performed at Hart Bageri in Copenhagen, White signed up for a two-week intensive course at the Culinary Education Institute in Pasadena with Ayo Edebiri , who plays newcomer Beef. Sydney Adamu. They worked privately with the chef-instructor and on Fridays joined a real cooking class. On the final day, the staff asked what White felt he needed and he answered: omelettes, one of the most deceptively simple dishes in the kitchen, requiring finesse and technique. With three pans in front of him, he cooked for hours until he had gone through 10 dozen eggs. He said he made around 120 omelets that day, and they have since become favorites with his wife and two daughters at home.

White’s first visit after graduation was to an all-day French-inspired patisserie, café and restaurant Republic, and it didn’t go as planned: he immediately felt overwhelmed by the size and scope of it. It lasted one day.

Jeremy Allen White, left to right, Lionel Boyce and Ebon Moss-Bachrach in ‘The Bear’.

(FX)

“I didn’t realize how much they were doing every day,” he said. “This restaurant and this kitchen are only really empty for maybe two hours a day, and so I was getting thrown out a lot at a time. They were all lovely and supportive, but it seemed too big for me to even find a place to study.

White has found her place and her rhythm at Pasjoli, a Michelin-starred French bistro in Santa Monica run by a chef-owner with personal experience in Chicago’s rarefied culinary circles. Chef Dave Beran came to some of this city’s most esteemed kitchens, cooking through MK the Restaurant, Tru, Alinea and its sister restaurant, Next, before moving to Los Angeles in 2017. It was Storer, after having dined and chatted with Beran at his previous Los Angeles spot, Dialogue, which explored White’s potential to prepare for the role.

“We basically treated him like he was any cook who came here, and in their first two weeks of training [they] learn how to run a station,” Beran said. “Our goal was to make him competent enough to consider hiring.”

This is Beran’s first time training an actor. He started White with something simple: making mirepoix for broths and sauces, where awkward knife cuts could be tucked away a little more than, say, in an entrée or salad. He worked almost two weeks over the months, shot the pilot, then returned before filming the rest of the season. While the team was welcoming, it was, he admits, humiliating.

“One day I was cutting carrots or scallions or something, and I was cutting in front of this chain cooker and she was watching me out of the corner of her eye,” White said. “I could tell she was judging me, and I said, ‘Oh, no. I am not a cook. I am an actor.’ And she said, ‘I know. I can say.’ It was very clear that I was a tourist.

But on his last two nights at Pasjoli, White was cooking entrees, posted between Beran and one of his sous chefs – “You just put it where you can watch it” – and cooking for a few friends who would come over for dinner. and encourage him. Beran swears White must have come away with more than a few tiger stripes, or scars, after burning his arms on the oven and grill during his time with them.

Much of White’s training at Pasjoli went beyond cooking; Beran clarified that the words of a chef are not limited to what arrives on the plate. The performance could be made more authentic by reproducing oddities such as Thomas Keller tapping his wooden clogs together, or Grant Achatz standing in the corner with his arms crossed and chin in hand, staring at the line while thinking. (Beran twirls his spoon.)

Even the method of holding a spoon is telling, Beran said: Gourmet chefs often place spoons as if they were holding a pencil or pen — without the bear patter — which gives more control when sauce-making. . These traits are learned over years of experience when White was only a few months old. Understanding that weeks spent training in kitchens across the country could never instill the years of practice of a professional chef, White – who also worked with David Waltuck of Chanterelle in New York and spent a weekend to Kumiko in Chicago – took mental notes of what and when he could cheat: “If it’s the cameras floating around the kitchen, tracking different people, I’ll be a little nice to myself and pretend when I can,” he said. As for the close-ups of his hands being cut, however, he had to be active.

A photo of chef Dave Beran shaving fresh truffles on foie gras toast at Pasjoli.

Chef Dave Beran shaves fresh truffles over his chicken liver at Pasjoli in 2019. The gourmet chef helped train Jeremy Allen White for his role before “The Bear” wrapped its first season.

(Allison Zaucha/Los Angeles Times)

The balance between television magic and culinary authenticity also extends to the set: the production team recreated on stage the somewhat cramped kitchen of Chicago’s famous Mr. Beef on Orleans sandwich shop, where the pilot been filmed. Minute changes allowed for more space for camera equipment, but it’s still one continuous, always-close piece – a necessity to build tension between the characters.

To glean a chef’s life beyond the Storers’ experiences, professional chefs stopped by the writers room for a virtual Q&A, where they answered questions such as, What are Chefs’ hours? ? What about the dynamics within the kitchen? What do they look like after a long shift?

Calo compares the collaborative process to the arc of the show, in which the chefs of the Beef, in all their idiosyncrasies and various phases of formation, begin to work in tandem for an outcome greater than the sum of the parts of a sandwich shop.

The result is a level of detail perhaps only noticeable to those versed in the hospitality industry: Pepto Bismol and bottles of Fernet placed on top of unpaid bills on a desk; a family meal served in half-liter plastic containers for storage and takeout; ; margins so thin that revenue from coin-operated arcades could be the difference between paying for your meat supply or going without.

Hardly any chef has contributed to the show’s portrayal more than cookbook author, restaurateur and pompous host Matty Matheson, who served as co-producer in addition to appearing on screen. Bringing the exciting, positive, and borderline erratic energy to “The Bear” that helped catapult his own cooking shows to international fandom, social media superstardom, and a slew of brand collaborations, Matheson , who plays handyman Neil Fak, helped demonstrate the cooking procedure and method, helping and improving White – sometimes with a little too much enthusiasm.

A man in a white coat puts orange sauce on a dish.

Actor Jeremy Allen White prepares a dish as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto in a gourmet kitchen on “The Bear.”

(Matt Dinerstein/FX)

“The cameras are rolling and I start doing my own thing, he’s looking at the camera, he’s going to say, ‘Stop.’ He’ll come in, he’ll do some more cooking,” White said. “But then a few times he’d say, ‘No, you want to do it like that’ and he’d cook something from start to finish — because that’s his nature – and then I had to tell him, ‘Hey, man, like, we don’t have a lot. I need to do this for the camera. Just give me some directions, but please don’t cook everything.

White said he relied heavily on Matheson and Courtney Storer to correct him, asking them to watch the monitors and cut the call if any of his gestures felt forced, inappropriate or inauthentic – and they called him with grace over and over again.

Next time there may be less reason to call “cut”. If “The Bear” is greenlit for a second season, White plans to improve his skills by returning to Pasjoli for an entire month of directing. Beran says he’s welcome anytime – and will work even harder.

“He has an open door,” Beran said. “He worked hard. He wasn’t someone who just got in the way, watched. Honestly, if he wants to spend a month here doing it, we’ll put him on the program and we’ll really make him work in the kitchen.

‘The Bear’

Where: Hulu

When: Any time from Thursday

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