We Actually Do Mean “Things”

Shocker Alert

According to Deadline Hollywood, a relatively high proportion of women over 25 was expected in the audience for the new movie Burnt when it came out in American theaters this Hallowe’en weekend. As one of this cohort, I’ve only seen a couple of trailers but I can vouch for the allure of Bradley Cooper offering “culinary orgasms” by the spoonful as a two-Michelin-Star chef. Of course, I can vouch for the allure of Bradley Cooper cleaning a grease trap in a dress, too.


But it is as a former kitchen rat that I’m irresistibly drawn to Burnt. There simply aren’t enough movies about cooking, much less movies set in restaurants, for a nation in which half of all adults have worked in the industry. A whole world of us lower-echelon restaurant denizens–fry cooks, bus boys, pantry girls, bar backs, table runners, delivery guys, suppliers and servers of all stripes–has been waiting to see if someone finally Got It Right.

By “It,” I mean the kitchen vibe: the supercharged atmosphere in the crowded spaces back of house where together, you swerve continuously between adrenaline and exhaustion, perfectionism and numb execution, physical pain and sensory pleasure, empathy and violence, stupid jokes and mortal threats, dread and overconfidence. Even when it’s boring, kitchen work holds heroic potential: those endurance-testing hours, those starvation wages, the possibility of being burned by both flame and freezer….

Heads Up, Critics

Whether secretly or not, most of us are proud of the time we’ve done in restaurants. The credibility of any piece of entertainment set for even a second in one will be judged ruthlessly by the lowliest dishwasher among us. We are prone to severe disappointment, even disgust, when movies and TV shows Get It Wrong, even though even now they hardly ever don’t.

To the Burnt crew, then, serious points right out of the pass for their scrupulous approach to context. Director John Wells, famous for that as creator of The West Wing and ER, engaged UK celebrity chef Marcus Wareing to coach culinary chops into Cooper and costar Sienna Miller, and surrounds them with brigades of trained cooks in the nonspeaking roles. “I think audiences … have a sense of what is authentic,” he explained in early publicity. “So it has to be done properly.”

“Behind!”

Burnt came out overseas weeks ago, and by now the reviews can’t be avoided. Critics are saying Cooper and Miller’s performances prove that talent can’t redeem a weak story. Talent can, however, help the cause of authenticity. I can’t wait to hear Bradley Cooper curse in his fluent French over a piece of oil-poached turbot, even though the fatal attraction of Burnt is not the food.

It’s not even the dude.

The Euro-toney production was inspired by London landmarks the Langham Hotel and Delaunay, and filled with the furniture of French designer Jacqueline Morabito, but at the heart of all that elegance is a fully operational kitchen that producer Harvey Weinstein had purpose-built. According to Production Designer David Portman, “You could have lifted that kitchen out of the studio and put it in the middle of a restaurant, and it would work. And it was stunning. There was no expense spared.”

The resulting dish? A movie with credits for “Cuisine” that include recipes, retail cooking classes, and restaurants where you can eat entrees featured in Burnt. With product placement like this, who needs people? Sure enough, hot though he be, Bradley Cooper as Chef Adam Jones has nothing on the blast chiller in the Burnt kitchen. See for yourself in this trailer how the camera swoops in, hovers, probes, and dwells on the gallery of gleaming metal.

5 on Fire

1. The Grand Piano
Optimized-Rorgue dials
Even our in-house gear-guru, an industry veteran with an eagle eye, was sputtering seconds into this clip over the “gas French-top” with its raised charbroiler, lava rock, and cast-iron grates (“Montague, maybe? Jade?”); over the custom lowboys underneath and the fabulous retractable lamps overhead.
gallery-1443474153-burnt
He got “French” right: the 14-burner, 4-oven range came bespoke from Rorgue, where they have been forging custom stoves for some 120 years.

2. Berth of the Cool and the Clean
The UK’s Precision Refrigeration and Winterhalter slid their stainless cabinets, counters, uprights and custom warewashing machines beneath and around Rorgue’s artisanal inferno.

3. Redheads and Blonds
Optimized-apartment kitchen from Burnt
I wouldn’t presume to call a single source of the copper and steel saucepans that glow on the horizon of most kitchen scenes in Burnt. For some of us, certain elements begin and end with Mauviel. But such is the profusion of pots and pans in the commercial kitchens where Chef Adam Jones seeks redemption, and in the delicious details of his apartment, that it’s a safe guess many another coppersmith deserves credit here. One thing’s for sure: a lot of lemons went under the knife for this production.

4. A Gentle, Rocking Motion
pasta hand
The delicate gaze of Helene, Chef’s talented sous, played by Sienna Miller, is offset more than once by the chrome shine of her manual dough sheeter like a Vermeer girl by her boudoir mirror–clearly the better choice over an automatic pasta machine and no less plausible.

5. Glittering Embers
To blow gold dust onto ganache as in the photo up top, you need a steady hand, a balanced knife, and breath control. Whew! They definitely got it hot, but–I’d love to know what you think!–did Burnt Get It Right? Let me know. I’ll be in the walk-in for a bit.

Elaine Evans
Elaine Evans Elaine Evans is thrilled to blog for KaTom, where her work in restaurants, bars, catering, and artisanal food has caught up at last with her career in journalism and public relations writing. Connect with Elaine Evans on Google+
  1. November 02, 2015 at 10:23 pm, Sam Wolfe said:

    For a restaurant movie to get it right it would probably have to be fairly boring. A busy restaurant is organized chaos and capturing that on film (or whatever they use today) is not going to entertain. The gadgets in the preview look great but most folks won't get it. Like all good movies it needs a story and one guy, hunkie as he is, with ambition doesn't seem enough to stir the pot. I doubt Burnt will be listed with Babette's Feast or Big Night. Yet I like your review. Attaching a manual dough sheeter to Vermeer was, well, well done.

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  2. November 03, 2015 at 8:05 pm, Elaine Evans said:

    Sam, thank you! Good movies need good stories, it's true. About "Getting It Right," though: I believe capturing the atmosphere of restaurant kitchens is possible, is closer than ever to being done definitively on screen, and has even happened, fleetingly, here and there, for which we have reality TV as much as art movies to thank. Do you follow @Get Jiro?

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  3. November 03, 2015 at 8:42 pm, Sam Wolfe said:

    Elaine Evans My son-in-law is a chef who's hero is Anthony Bourdain so I'm a little surprised I don't know anything about Get Jiro. Maybe I'll get the set of books for him for Christmas. I saw (and loved) Jiro Dreams of Sushi which is a wonderful story and I'm sure the basis of Bourdain's character. I spent about twenty five years in restaurants with only a couple of shitty experiences, although I could do without the restaurant dreams. I can't watch the restaurant shows on reality TV partly because they gave us Guy Fieri but mainly because a good kitchen gets in a flow that churns out timely meals without theatrics (I know, I know, we all worked w/ an assclown) but with the sweat and grind of a hard job. Most reality TV is cheaply scripted cable filler and it shows. Perhaps I'm just a TV snob. But I love food movies when they're well written and provacative. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. Tampopo. Several others. Keep up the blog. You're good at it.

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  4. November 04, 2015 at 7:36 pm, Leah Jones said:

    I loved it! Totally relatable, sometimes we have to trust our team mates and let go!

    Reply