Richie Nakano (@linecook) is the former chef/founder of Hapa Ramen.
Anytime that Hollywood decides to make a movie depicting a certain occupation, the hard working people in said industry generally let out a collective groan. From firemen banging their heads against the wall about Backdraft, to pilots bitching over beers about Top Gun, the inaccuracies are abundant and glaring. Yet few movie genres have gotten things wrong as regularly as chef-centric films.
For every Ratatouille or Chef that hits the mark, there’s a whole slew of disappointing flicks: Julie and Julia, Tortilla Soup, Eat Pray Love (which probably inspired Gwyneth Paltrow to launch Goop), and Tampopo (favorite topic of “guy who visited Japan once and knows more about ramen than you do.”)
So its with this in mind that we invite another candidate into the conversation, Burnt. The movie stars handsome-as-f*ck Bradley Cooper, who plays a chef trying to mount his comeback into the fine dining world—a phoenix rising from the ashes of his binchotan, if you will.
My first thought when I heard about this movie was that this shouldn’t be too hard a sell for Cooper, who played a chef in the Kitchen Confidential TV show. But flexing Gordon Ramsay while also not looking like a contestant on Hell’s Kitchen would be a stretch for most restaurant vets, so how does Cooper, and the movie, hold up? Even if the movie was critically slammed, would it resonate amongst chefs, and, futher more, would Cooper’s intense training under a professional pay off?
Here we set to find out whether Burnt portrayed chef life in a way that felt honest and real.
Plot: Is this a realistic story arc for chefs in the business?
*Note: I saw this with a solid 7/10 hangover, because, you know, chef life.
Our movie begins in New Orleans, where Bradley Cooper, playing former two Michelin-star chef Adam Jones, is in hiding and paying his penance for past sins by becoming sober and shucking one million oysters. This is some serious monk sh*t, but he ruins the whole thing by literally walking out of his oyster job with no notice.
Right away, you get a sense that the chef blueprint depicted here is a stretch of the imagination. He ventures to London and basically negs people, goes into their kitchens and talks sh*t, and says things like, “I’m going to take over your restaurant, I’m going for my third star.” In fact, there’s a lot of talk about this third star. Pretty much everyone he runs into mentions “I hear you’re going for your third star,” which, you know, isn’t how Michelin works at all. You don’t get two stars and keep them like a military general. Are there two Michelin-star chefs that at some point weren’t pursuing a third star? And is opening a restaurant and immediately being in the running for three stars a thing now in Europe? No. No it is not.
There’s a part where his credit card gets declined, and I was like “THIS I IDENTIFY WITH.” But then he eats at a Burger King and compares it to French bistro cooking, and convinces a food critic he slept with once to, just on a whim, sneak attack review the restaurant he wants to take over. Outlandish by all means.
Next thing you know they’ve remodeled the restaurant and re-opened at “Adam Jones at the Langham” (LOL OK COOL NAME GUY), and in one scene Bradley Cooper pulls a Gordon Ramsay in Boiling Point and personally berates and insults half his brigade, then physically assaults Sienna Miller over a piece of fish—because that’s what real chefs do for christ’s sake. (Although to be fair, there is a lot of talk where she’s offered triple her salary, then later double the tripled salary, so just spitballing here, we’re low-end talking like $192,000 a year.)
The rest of the movie is more tantrums and pouting and Bradley Cooper shirtless. At one point Cooper puts a vacuum bag over his head in an attempt to commit suicide, or sousicide, if you will.
.@gzchef #AskBurnt pic.twitter.com/oMKLGWsE2B
— Twitter Movies (@TwitterMovies) October 23, 2015
General Technique: Does he look like he knows WTF he’s doing?
So the plot is a mess, but do the cooks look like they know what they’re doing? Here’s the thing: I couldn’t really tell. All of the cooking is shot from a low angle where the cooks could literally be playing an intense game of dominos for all we know. Cooper is shown seasoning food by throwing the seasoning literally all over a table, and he also dipped his fingers in sauces. You get sent home from culinary school for dipping your fingers in sauces and then tasting them—use a spoon, Bradley. There is also a point where he squeeze-bottles oil onto a spoon. BUT WHY.
Even though pretty much every single plate of food is never once described or is recognizable, the family meal does look decent. (What’s troubling, however, is that it goes up at 5:10, which seems kind of late to be sitting down if you open at 6, 6:30, or even 7.)
Sienna Miller’s character has a scene where she sheets pasta into noodles that are like four feet long, and a later scene where she burns herself so badly the entire kitchen stops what they’re doing. I’ve been cooking a long time and the most I’ve seen someone react to a cook getting burnt is muttering “uh, you ok?”
Then there was a “chef buying ingredients” montage and my hangover intensified and I kind of blacked out for a minute. If they wanted to make ingredient procurement more realistic, couldn’t this have been a “oh for fucks sake I ordered fifteen pounds of lamb necks and you sent me eighteen pounds of lamb chops and my idiot AM sous signed for it anyways.”
Forks that touch non-stick: 1
Burnt beef that’s supposed to look delicious but is burnt: 1
Scenes cooking for Michelin inspectors where no one tastes anything before sending: 1
Appearance: Bradley Cooper is fine as hell, but does he look dinged up from years on the line?
No, no he does not. In fact regularly, throughout the movie, he’s told how good he looks. For a dude that says his drug of choice was heroin and references smoking crack, he looks too healthy and robust. As for the other cooks, there are some bad tattoos and bad haircuts, but that’s about it.
Knife tattoos: 3
Unbuttoned chef coats: Lost count, it was A LOT
Injecting drugs references: 3
Food: Does the food look modern, delicious, and like stuff we’d want to eat?
Food I recognized: Burger King burger, omelette, cake. Pretty much everything else was ambiguous, probably lifted from an issue of Art Culinaire—some fancy sh*t, all garnished by hand instead of with tweezers, and always with borage flowers. There were borage flowers on everything. Couldn’t these nerds have gotten some nasturtiums, or maybe a polite mix of microgreens?
Slow egg on fish dishes: 1
“Thing being basted in butter” scenes: 11
Come for #BradleyCooper, stay for the #foodporn. #BurntMovie now playing. https://t.co/oGfYzZHjwBhttps://t.co/VyS9tDFGv0
— Burnt Movie (@BurntMovie) October 30, 2015
Work load: Is he working, like, all the time?
LOL, no. For a guy aiming for three Michelin stars, it seems ill advised to be making out with your cooks, leaving the line mid-service to flirt in a back alley, or take a night off to attend a fancy party. But to be fair I’ve never “gone for my third star,” so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.
Temper: How many times did Bradley Cooper watch Gordon Ramsay’s Boiling Point to get this just right?
What I realized while watching Burnt was that Cooper’s character is less of a hot head and more of just a general prick. Sure, he yells, berates, and throws plates, but mostly his m.o. is askew. He talks all this sh*t about how he wants to make his guests sick with longing, but you never get the sense that he actually enjoys feeding people, or even enjoys cooking for that matter. He looks like a terrible chef to work for, but more for just being a dud with questionable priorities more than anything else.
Broken plates: 4, plus a scene where another chef basically demolishes his entire dining room
Bonus Round: Number of times a brand is mentioned, or an immersion circulator or combi oven is shown being used.
This is where things get hilarious. There’s a scene where Sienna Miller brings an immersion circulator into the restaurant to ‘modernize’ the food, or something like that, and from there on out:
Immersion circulators: 17
Times sous-vide referred to as a condom: 2
Anti Griddles: 1
Rotovaps that Cooper laughs at hysterically: 1
Restaurant with two vacuum sealers that live directly next to each other: 1
So does Burnt nail the chef lifestyle? Not really at all. Mario Batali and Marcus Wearing were culinary advisors on this film, and all I could think was WHERE WERE YOU GUYS? Burnt plays like a movie made by some bro that ate at Daniel once and really enjoys Gordon Ramsay shows. But the most disappointing part? People are going to see this movie and think that this is the way restaurants are. Now, that’s a shame.