What BU Foodies Have to Say about The Bear

The third season of the Emmy-winning comedy premieres June 26

Photo still from FX's The Bear. A young male chef is seen labeling items in a kitchen setting

Emmy winner Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto in FX’s The Bear. Photo courtesy of FX

Film & TV

What BU Foodies Have to Say about The Bear

The third season of the Emmy-winning comedy/drama premieres June 26

June 25, 2024
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The long-awaited third season of FX’s hit comedy/drama The Bear premieres June 26. In last season’s finale, a stressed-out Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (2023 Emmy winner Jeremy Allen White) is a colossal jerk to his staff and family and subsequently gets locked in the walk-in fridge during the biggest night of his career. His team manages the restaurant just fine without him and are significantly less toxic while doing so. 

Carmy’s efforts to transform his family’s fast-casual Italian sandwich shop into a fine-dining restaurant strikes a chord with BU culinary experts who watch the show.

For chef Chris Douglass, one scene in particular nails what it’s like to be done after a long and stressful day in the kitchen: in the first season, after a day of crafting five-star meals, Carmy finally returns home from work and chooses what he’s going to make for himself, an unpretentious peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“Absolutely that,” says a laughing Douglass, lead culinary instructor in Metropolitan College’s Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts, who has cooked and worked in the restaurant industry for over 30 years. He says that chefs and staff working in these high-end kitchens are engrossed in the minutia of churning out nine-course dinners and complicated dishes like compressed summer melons and Japanese Wagyu.

“In the kitchen, when you are working like that, you are totally immersed,” he says. “It is total sensory immersion in food—smelling, tasting, feeling. You get overwhelmed and you don’t want to eat at all. You have turned off all of that because of sensory overload, and you get home and you are starving.”

Douglass says his end-of-day go-to is either a fried egg sandwich or some Teddy’s Super Chunky peanut butter with a banana. “Quick calories,” he says.

For Alana Buckbee, a MET gastronomy lecturer, who teaches food marketing, hearing the show use the title “Chef” and the call and response of “Oui, Chef” and “Heard” are accurate and “reflect the unique parlance of communication in kitchens. This structure creates a camaraderie and sense of community,” she says, “and sometimes acts as a barrier to some of the more toxic sides of kitchen culture.” 

Watch the trailer for season three of The Bear.

Buckbee is referring to scenes like the one where Carmy has flashbacks of working in a Michelin-star New York City restaurant under the tutelage of an unnamed cruel head chef played by comedian Joel McHale. 

“Can you even handle this? Is this too much for you?” the chef growls at Carmy, who is plating items to be served. He ridicules Carmy for serving failed sauces and asks why before interjecting: “I get it; you have a short man’s complex. You can barely reach over this f*cking table, right?” Carmy ends up earning the coveted Michelin star, then leaving the restaurant and returning home when his brother dies by suicide, leaving him his sandwich shop, which he then works to transform.

One of Carmy’s first hires is his sous chef, Sydney Adams (Emmy winner Ayo Edebiri, who grew up in Dorchester). In a scene from the first season, she tells Carmy that kitchens don’t have to be places “where everyone acts shitty,” and sets out to help him create a less toxic working environment.

The show’s flashback scenes—as well as Carmy’s own current-day outbursts—drive one School of Hospitality Administration expert crazy. 

“I think it perpetuates an image of disorganization and unprofessional conduct that the industry is trying to move past, although it is certainly entertaining and well-acted,” says Seth Gerber (SHA’12, Questrom’21), a SHA lecturer, general manager and co-owner of Boston’s South End restaurant MIDA, and an industry consultant. “I enjoy it as TV, but wish that so many people didn’t take it seriously as an analogy for what it’s like in the business or as a hero story.”

I enjoy [The Bear] as TV, but wish that so many people didn’t take it seriously as an analogy for what it’s like in the business.
Seth Gerber

Demetri Tsolakis, a SHA lecturer and CEO of Xenia Greek Hospitality, agrees. Tsolakis grew up working in his parents’ Greek restaurants in western Massachusetts. He opened Committee Ouzeri + Bar in the Seaport in 2015, ​​Krasi Meze + Wine in 2020, Hecate in 2022, and Greco Truly Greek, a fast-casual eatery that launched in 2017, with several locations in Boston and Washington, D.C. 

Tsolakis prides himself on the fact that his restaurants don’t have the chaotic and toxic behavior often depicted on the show. “We offer much more support and provide the tools that a chef needs to work in a stress-free environment,” he says. “If things are breaking all the time, it adds to the stress. We have support positions like culinary director, which all chefs can go to. We always have someone on standby to jump in. And a lot of research goes into our menus, and there are a lot of collaborative efforts, like tastings.” 

He believes The Bear showcases an “old-world style of how a chef acts or used to act, versus new ones that are more in tune with mental health, exclusivity, and not being so aggressive.

“I don’t think it depicts every kitchen,” he adds. “But we all know someone who used to work for someone like that.” 

Megan Elias, director of MET’s Gastronomy Program, says the show is an example of modern-day cult-like worship of famous chefs, the ones who run world-renowned, Michelin-star-winning restaurants like The French Laundry in Napa Valley and Alchemist in Denmark. This wasn’t always the case.

Elias, reflecting on the show from her perspective as a food historian, says kitchen work wasn’t considered glamorous or exciting until the 1970s. Then the first celebrity chefs, like Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower, who often came to cooking from other careers (versus attending culinary school first), “brought this high culture, kind of upper- or upper-middle-class perspective to the kitchen,” she says. “Before this, it was really considered a craft, not an art. It wasn’t popularly represented to the demographic that watches The Bear as something worth knowing anything about.”

Elias notes that it wasn’t until after World War II that fine dining became available to middle-class Americans. “It also helped people become interested in cuisines outside of their home, and cuisines that were already considered high-class, like French and occasionally Italian,” she says.

The idea of treating food as something special is best shown in The Bear’s storyline about Cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who, at the show’s beginning, is a gritty chef. By season two, he is sent by Carmy to a high-end restaurant for a maître d’ boot camp and comes out the other side a changed man. 

“He is transformed through learning how to treat food as something special,” Elias says. “I feel the handprint of [renowned chef and food activist] Alice Waters is on that storyline—that food can transform you and make you a good person. You can have a religious experience around food.”

Season three of The Bear premieres Wednesday, June 26, at 9 pm on FX. All episodes of the show can also be streamed on Hulu.

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What BU Foodies Have to Say about The Bear

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  1. Two unrelated points: First, a BU alumnus, Sam Lisenco, was the Production Designer for the pilot of The Bear, and thus had a key role in defining the look of the show.

    Second, I have read culinary histories that call into question the now-standard line (repeated by interviewees in this article) that the food revolution of the 1970’s brought the art of fine dining to the masses. Another perspective has it that America’s middle class got used to limited, bland cuisine because of the proliferation of diners and other downscale eating establishments at the start of the 20th century. Prior to that, Americans enjoyed a much more adventurous and sophisticated relationship with food. What caused the change? Two main factors (so the theory goes): First, the industrialization of food production streamlined and dumbed down the ingredient list that cooks had to work with. Second, prohibition denied restauranteurs the vital income provided by alcohol sales, causing a shift to simpler dining venues.

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