Bay Area chefs say FX/Hulu show ‘The Bear’ is ‘pretty dead on’ in depictions of abusive kitchens

By Steph Rodriguez, SFGate

The hit FX series, “The Bear,” was just renewed for a second season following its smash success. 

If you’ve ever prepped onions and veg in the wee hours of the morning for the day’s lunch rush, if you’ve ever been yelled at by the dishwasher for not peeling the labels off the cambros before they hit the sinks, if you’ve ever dropped a tray full of freshly baked cookies in front of customers and the business owner on your first day, then FX/Hulu’s buzzy new show, “The Bear,” will slap you right back into the thick of those suppressed memories.

“The Bear” depicts a young chef, with an extensive fine dining background, who abruptly returns home to Chicago to run his family’s sandwich shop following the tragic death of someone close to him. It’s a show filled with all the thorny, relatable moments most back-of-the-house staff experience and it’s a refreshingly honest depiction of what goes on behind the scenes to bring customers their favorite sandwich or blue plate special.

I speak from experience as someone who toiled as a cook and dishwasher at small, independently run eateries — with questionable ethics and paperthin budgets — in Sacramento. Needless to say, not all of my experiences as a woman of color working in the restaurant industry were ones that I was ready to revisit. Yet, I binged the entire show in two days.

For Bay Area chefs, “The Bear” brought up feelings of anxiety, so much so that many admitted to turning the show off and walking away. (Variety calls it “one of the most stressful shows,” while the Atlantic said it was “the antithesis of comfort TV.”) At the same time, they’d find themselves returning to find out whether or not its leading character, Carmy, played by Jeremy Allen White (“Shameless”), could truly turn the beloved Chicago sandwich shop with its hard-knock kitchen crew around. 

After watching the first episode, chef-owner of All Good PizzaCafe Alma and Tato, Kristin Houk, said the patriarchal elements of the show’s kitchen were all too familiar.

“I think that they’ve captured the chaos of a kitchen, for sure,” Houk said. “Just the intense, intense pressure, and for me, as a woman, I always felt there was a lot of sexism in the kitchen as well, and a lot of really shitty behavior, quite frankly.” …

Published with SFGate July 15, 2022. Read full story here.

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