Yes, everyone has a TV show to rave about these days, but let me add one more to the list. The Bear, which is available to stream on Hulu, is an absolute must-watch. The FX series follows Carmen or “Carmy” (played by Jeremy Allen White of Shameless fame), a fine-dining chef who takes over his family’s failing Chicago-based sandwich shop, with intentions to turn it around. Personal and professional demons abound—mainly the toxicity of his past life working in a fancy restaurant kitchen—which got us curious: How true-to-life is this show? To fact check, we reached out to a former L.A.-based chef who spent years working at a variety of restaurants, including one with a Michelin star. (For the record, he binge watched all eight episodes of the hit series—which has already been renewed for season two—in a single day.)
Fact or Fiction: Yes, Chef
Both. When Carmy inherits The Original Beef of Chicagoland, the name of the sandwich establishment he suddenly finds himself running, he activates a communication style that was the norm from his fine dining days: Yes, chef. But under Carmy’s leadership, every cook in the kitchen is referred to this way. “The line where he says, ‘I call everyone chef because it’s a sign of respect,’ is something I experienced only once,” our source explains. “It’s a sign of respect to call the head chef, ‘Chef.’ That’s pretty much the golden rule. But to have cooks referred to as chef? That’s unique. In my experience, all the servers had to call every cook, ‘Chef,’ too. You likely don’t see that at your local pizza or sandwich shop.”
Fact or Fiction: The Experimental Pastry Chef
Fact. In the series, Marcus (played by Lionel Boyce) is an aspiring pastry chef who has the ability to test the waters at work. This is very much encouraged in upscale restaurants, our source explains. “It’s different at every place, but if you’re at a good restaurant, they encourage you to explore. The idea is this: The restaurant is a business, so you still have to get your work done and run your station and have everything ready for service. On the flip side, if you can do that and manage to have free time, the pay-off is that you’re in a restaurant full of resources and ingredients and tools that are all at your disposal. I’ve seen this with a ton of people. At the Michelin-star restaurant I worked at, I was doing pastries and one of the other women was doing regular dinner service. But at the same time, she was making cinnamon rolls and macarons in between just because she wanted to play around.”
Fact or Fiction: The Hazing
Fact. When Tina (played by Liza Colón-Zayas) turns up the heat that afternoon in the kitchen—stopping here because no spoilers—that’s not uncommon. But our source is clear: It’s not hazing, it’s competition. “The thing with cooking is that it’s like a sport—you can’t really hide a lack of skills, everyone knows them and everyone is competing for higher spots in the kitchen so you have to prove yourself. What happens in that scene in The Bear hasn’t been my experience, but I’ve heard about plenty of situations where people try to sabotage each other.”
Fact or Fiction: Carmy’s PTSD
Fact. The Bear is full of flashbacks to Carmy’s fancier—but high pressure—fine dining days. The idea that someone would be in your ear berating you for a lack of perfection? Our source says that’s absolutely the case. “Any time something’s not going right, I’ve had chefs do that to me because they’re upset. They’re screaming at you, they could throw things at you. In my case, they’ve kicked things my way. But I don’t hold a grudge. They get emotional because, from their perspective, there’s a lot of pressure being the chef at a restaurant. The whole brand is based off of the chef. They don’t really cook, it’s their cooks that are making all the food for them, so whether it’s great or terrible, it’s attached to their name. There’s also a lot of sacrifice that goes into it. And if some new cook doesn’t care and is messing things up and making them look bad, they get emotional. There’s a lot of ego that gets tied in.”
Fact or Fiction: The Health Inspection
Fact. Let’s just say the health inspection in The Bear doesn’t go as planned. But our source said that’s the norm. “Maybe not the cigarette part—that’s a pretty big violation. But it’s true that, as crazy as the kitchen is, everyone drops everything for the health inspection. The visits are always a surprise and they are taken incredibly seriously. Even the hardest core chefs are nervous around health inspectors. It can shut down your restaurant and destroy your business in an instant. Health inspections are purposely strict, too, and it doesn’t matter if the inspector is right or wrong, meaning sometimes you get someone that is just being overly strict. It’s very stressful.”
Fact or Fiction: The Stressed Out Chef
Fact. Carmy? Overwhelmed? Per our source, that part is absolutely true to life. “If you notice the chef the whole show, he looks incredibly drained and tired and like his soul has been ripped from his body,” our source says. “I’ve had friends tell me I looked the same way, so I related to that part of the show the most. You just always feel completely beaten and utterly hopeless, but for some reason—mainly, the fact that it’s your passion—you keep going back.”
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