‘It was very triggering’ — 8 Seattle-area chefs react to ‘The Bear’

Among the plethora of cooking competition shows, “The Bear” on Hulu stands out. The scripted series follows Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), a young chef who returns from the world of haute cuisine to run his family sandwich shop in Chicago. Rife with drama, it presumes to offer an inside look at how restaurants function — or fail to do so — at both the fine-dining and counter-service level. The show’s been met with fascination in the restaurant industry, with plenty of recognition found in the mirror it holds up — and the reflection isn’t always pretty. Asked for their thoughts on “The Bear,” a group of Seattle chefs gave a lot — a lot — of them, some dispatching lengthy, multipartite essays. Following are excerpts from those responses.

Paolo Campbell of The Chicken Supply: “A lot of industry friends had so many things to say about it, and the consensus was that it was very triggering — LOL! I think it’s a fantastic portrayal of the industry. It made more sense when I saw Matty Matheson — he plays Fak — and that he’s a co-producer. He has come from some tougher times in the industry and had some substance issues but now is sober, and he’s a very successful Canadian restaurateur.

“Play this show for anyone who wants to get into this industry. Cooking shows always focus on creativity in a competitive scenario, so nonindustry people have this romanticized idea that all we do in the kitchen is make dishes every day that ‘push the envelope’ or come up with recipes on the fly because we’re always trying to flex our muscle chef. For the most part, chefs and cooks are following recipes, because we’re working for another chef and it’s their concept, or you work in a hotel or corporate setting doing cooking that fits in a certain budget. We’re also cleaning a lot, a lot, a lot — LOL.

“The to-go episode was the most triggering — ha-ha-ha — the second those tickets start printing uncontrollably, and even the sound of the nonstop printer, made me pause the show for a hot minute. The stress of it all, and every scenario in that episode, has been a reality at some point.”

Tamara Murphy of Terra Plata: “I ‘Bear’ binged. I loved it — mostly because it made me cringe and also terribly miss the way things ‘used to be’ at the same time. I loved and thrived under the brigade system. It was like a uniform — you didn’t have to think about it. ‘Yes, Chef,’ was all you ever needed to say. It was about discipline! [But it was] militant and often cruel. That cruel part needed to go. Some people did well with being berated — I usually let it roll off my shoulders. Great chefs came out of that style, and some wonderful cooks were broken, too.”

Melissa Miranda of Musang: “They definitely did their research. There are certain scenes that are triggering. And it makes me feel seen. The cutting labels with scissors. Making sure you take it off before giving it to the dishwasher. The neurosis and obsession is real.

“My fear is the glorification it might paint of this cool chef. But deep down, I really hope that people can feel some empathy and see how [expletive]-up our systems really are.”

Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita: “I have watched two episodes. My issue with it so far is that it is a chaotically stylized representation of serious stuff. We witness the intern keep her buoyancy through the crazy and stay. That part is so far unbelievable — she would have been more likely to say, ‘This is not for me’ and walk out/run screaming.

“A cook’s capacity for accepting crazy behavior is lower now to some degree, which is excellent! Everyone on my team currently in the BOH [back of house, or kitchen] has a personal story of misconduct, poor treatment, and reprehensible behavior of chefs and owners they worked for previously. These folks are 23 to 40 years old, so some of these stories are very recent.

“Young chefs come into my kitchen afraid to make a mistake. You cannot learn like that.

“This show is screaming to show the chaos and dysfunction, and I think it is more insidious than that, and far quieter.”

Wayne Johnson of FareStart: “First the things I loved: the use of kitchen lingo, chefs cooking great meals for the guests and going home to mash down a PB&J, the camaraderie of the vagabonds of staff, family meal, individuals working to be better than they were when they showed up, menu and recipe development and training, deglaze the pan, crazy kitchen sense of humor, acceptance, how many will support no matter what.

“Next the painfulness of the series: sabotage of work, distrust, lack of support for the women in the kitchen, drugs, alcohol abuse, working through the pain (mental and physical), distance from family, putting the restaurant before all else, in the weeds and can’t get out, and language-language-language.

The latter part of the show really leans on the changes that kitchen cultures today are striving for — [many] including myself have been working on changing the dysfunction of the toxic kitchen life for decades. I applaud all the chefs today that are working hard to run highly inclusive and diverse kitchens with pride and a prideful staff.”

Logan Cox of Homer and Milk Drunk: “Most chef/restaurant shows just focus on these kitchen spaces that convey a surreal, beatific environment. There’s a creative magician telling an over-the-top (mostly bullshit) story to make themselves seem more important than just a human being preparing a meal for another human being. We aren’t that far from the kid that’s making french fries at McDonald’s, and I feel like this show really brings that to the light. It showcases the importance of a team, the importance of immigrant labor for our country/industry and how little is earned working in hospitality!

“Episode 7 was kind of triggering for me. My eyelid started twitching and I was definitely having flashbacks to opening Milk Drunk — I’d show up at 6 am, par fry chicken and make soft serve base till 10:30 am, then set up the line for a 12 pm service start, thinking I was set AT LEAST for that day. Only to see people putting lawn chairs out in front of the restaurant an hour and a half before we opened, which ended up in us selling through 250 sandwiches in 3 hours. I would spend the rest of the day making 30 gallons of soft serve base to keep up with demand and then par fry chicken until 3 am I ended up sleeping in the bathroom because I knew if I went home I wouldn’t get out of bed — I would also go home and my then 1-year-old would tell me to go away, because she was pissed I wasn’t around. That went on for almost a month. And then you wake up to someone saying your fried-chicken sandwich isn’t worth the wait on Yelp … Nothing, folks, nothing.”

Toshiyuki Kawai of Iconic: “The show seems very dramatic, with the overreaction of the cooks. When things get busy, stress levels go even higher, but cussing out each other doesn’t help anything — not the food or the team. The head chef should strive to be calm and give cooks the exact task that needs to be accomplished. I didn’t see much of that in the show.

“I have seen many cooks quit cooking and lose their passion for food after working in such an intense kitchen. I try not to push my cooks too much because I want them to enjoy cooking for a long time.

“I did resonate very heavily with the scene where the chef was struggling to breathe. That has happened to me when I was too busy and there was no end in sight.”

Tora B. Hennessey, Annie Masuda, Thomas Siegel and Sawyer Quattrociocchi of The Independent Pizzeria: “The acting is great. They use some of the core lingo. There is a respectful effort to show the sexism, ageism, toxic-masculine hierarchy and [expletive] dynamics found in most kitchens (not Indie). They showed how young white men can get away with not pulling their weight, take credit for others’ work, and are favored in this industry, even when they don’t deserve it.

“We get it — the goal is entertainment, Hollywood’s take on the restaurant industry, and it is very entertaining and stressful. It had us pulling our hair out, often for inaccuracies of how the kitchen functions during service — this must be how medical staff feel about shows based in hospitals.

“SO MANY SMOKE BREAKS and standing around during the shift and moments of chaos. I think not.”

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