Ayo Edebiri, Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bachrach

Ayo Edebiri, Jeremy Allen White, and Ebon Moss-Bachrach

Victoria Stevens
Jeremy Allen White, Ayo Edebiri, and Ebon Moss-Bachrach

Jeremy Allen White, Ayo Edebiri, and Ebon Moss-Bachrach

Victoria Stevens
Jeremy Allen White

Jeremy Allen White

Victoria Stevens
Ebon Moss-Bachrach

Ebon Moss-Bachrach

Victoria Stevens
Ayo Edebiri

Ayo Edebiri

Victoria Stevens
Fill 1
Fill 1
June 27, 2023

The Bear Says, "Yes, Chef!"

As The Bear prepares to serve its second season, the kitchen crew share their recipe for a breakout hit.

Among the perks of starring on a breakout TV series, VIP treatment at restaurants certainly hovers near the top. Poof! The nuisance of waiting in lines and sitting at noisy tables disappears, like magic. Worst-case scenario, a fan requests a selfie mid-chew.

For Jeremy Allen White, the perfectionist chef on The Bear, dining experiences over the past several months have been uniquely yet consistently gratifying.

"The staff and cooks and chefs have all seen the show — which is a profound thing," he says. "I always thought it would be great if anyone with the show could walk into a restaurant and get a head nod and be taken care of, and it happened so fast. It's really amazing to be welcomed and accepted into the industry."

It helps that the work has been masterfully prepared, cooked and plated. And on June 22, the FX comedy — streaming exclusively on Hulu — about deep love and loss in a chaotic Chicago kitchen will serve up a fresh batch of ten episodes with more heat than a tender beef sirloin straight from the oven.

"Second seasons are incredibly hard because people do have expectations," says Joanna Calo, an executive producer and coshowrunner along with series creator Christopher Storer. "But we're lucky we have an amazing cast and a really interesting world for them to explore."

That world centers around White's Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto, a prodigal Manhattan chef who returns home to Chicago to run the Original Beef of Chicagoland after his drug-addicted older brother, Michael (Jon Bernthal), dies by suicide. It's a grungy, beaten-down joint brimming with tension, and not just because Michael's short-fused best friend, "cousin" Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), runs it.

The grieving Carmy doggedly tries to run the place like a Michelin-starred establishment anyway, and he's assisted by a support staff that includes sous-chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri); baker Marcus (Lionel Boyce); line cooks Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) and Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson); and fix-it guy Neil (Matty Matheson, also an executive producer as of season two).

Yet The Bear's appeal goes way beyond foodies and fans of winter-gray Midwest ambience, sucking viewers into an ego-driven office-of-sorts that happens to be frenetic and totally in- your-face immersive.

The cooks scamper around the kitchen as pans clank, equipment breaks, temperatures rise, food spills onto the floor and, in one instance, Sydney's knife plunges directly into Richie's backside. Episode seven, "Review," was filmed in one continuous twenty-minute take. And the finale opens with a seven-minute, emotionally cathartic monologue by Carmy about his hopes and fears.

With that kind of gritty yet exhilarating authenticity, it's no surprise critics, viewers and, yes, the culinary community have responded with wild enthusiasm. The Bear's eight-episode first season, which unspooled on Hulu over one night last June, sits at a pristine 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal lauded it on year-end rankings. One Fair Wage president Saru Jayaraman, an advocate for restaurant workers, told The New York Times, "I found the show to be a strikingly accurate depiction of the joys, challenges and inequities of restaurant life."

"While it's radical in its themes and how it's shot, it still has warmth and grounding and that feeling of a classic workplace comedy," says Nick Grad, president of FX Entertainment alongside Gina Balian. "There's a lot of Taxi in there, because it's a bunch of working-class people stuck in a place who wouldn't normally ever be together."

The Bear's origin story is rooted in family. Just like the Berzattos, Storer and his younger sister, Courtney, grew up in Chicago in a bustling but dysfunctional household beset by addiction and mental-health struggles. They both found comfort in the process of crafting food at friends' Italian restaurants. "It was a way to find family and escape a lot of personal issues," Courtney explains.

The older sibling attempted a cooking career but decided at age twenty it was too "difficult and intense." He instead channeled his energy into screenwriting (Adventures in the Sin Bin), producing (Ramy, Eighth Grade) and directing (Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King); the younger sib studied at culinary schools and trained in Paris restaurants. She then moved to L.A. and bunked with her brother while logging grueling hours at various hotspots.

"Chris saw all the things that I went through as a cook, from the good days and bad to the similarities between our life and restaurant life," she says.

He kept these anecdotes — as well as his own salad days — in mind when brainstorming ideas with the FX team about a potential new series. Storer recalls that Kate Lambert, FX's executive vice- president of development, wondered how to execute a successful scripted series set in the high-stakes restaurant business.

"People have tried, but it's a hard world to explain because there's so much to focus on," Storer says. (See: Fox's short-lived Kitchen Confidential from 2005 and Starz's Sweetbitter from 2018– 19.) They determined that the first episode would drop off audiences in the narrative middle and catch them up later. And the gifted hero at the center "would learn that he can't do it by himself."

He returned with a draft. "He just knocked it out of the park," Grad says. Calo (Hacks) joined as a coshowrunner to help with additional scripts and map out the season. FX officially pushed it into production shortly thereafter.

During the development process, Storer and Calo also submitted a dream cast list. Atop their picks for Carmy: White, who had worked with Storer on the 2020 thriller The Rental. "He's a ferocious talent but there's also something so kind and young about him," Storer explains. And though White, fresh off an eleven-year run on Shameless, was hesitant to portray yet another troubled Chicago-based brother, he ultimately couldn't resist.

"I knew if I didn't do it, I'd really be kicking myself seeing another actor performing the part a year later," he says. Storer also culled from his past — i.e., directing two episodes of Dickinson — to recruit Edebiri as Carmy's ambitious, classically trained number two. "I remember getting an email asking me to do a self-tape," she says. "I wasn't totally sure what the show was, but I write as well and knew what I was reading was engaging and exciting. It felt alive in different ways."

Before they uttered a word of restaurant lingo, White and Edebiri had to become experts in the field. "It was crucial," Storer says. "We wanted to be respectful to everyone in the industry, and their performances needed to feel second nature."

Though their real-world education has been well documented, it's worth repeating: both stars attended basic training at the Institute of Culinary Education. They also labored as line cooks in high-end restaurant kitchens, with White grilling short rib at the esteemed Pasjoli in Santa Monica. ("There was a lot of fear and anxiety, but it was so exciting.") Edebiri became so skilled that she speaks of her roasted chicken with Food Network–like gravitas. "I like putting compound butter on top because it melts and makes the skin really crispy," she says. "The producers wanted us to get that good."

Some Chicago-set shows are filmed on studio lots in Los Angeles. The Bear was never going to be one of them. "It was always, always Chicago," Storer says. "It's a hard-working city that feels alive in ways that we tried to mimic on the show." The production, which ran from February through March 2022, was so low frills that, he jokes, "People must have been like, 'What's this weird student film next to this Dick Wolf show?'"

The unfamiliar location bred some hardcore cast bonding.

"Nobody was from Chicago or knew it very well, so we became this tiny family," says Moss-Bachrach (The Dropout), who left his wife and two kids at home on the East Coast to "give much more over to the work." True to form, the ensemble had group dinners on Friday nights. "I was so lucky because everyone was so lovely," he says. "They were the nicest bunch of people I've ever worked with. We all felt lucky to be making this thing with each other. I know it sounds so corny."

They also had the benefit of acting in the closest of confines. The Original Beef of Chicagoland set was a working kitchen, complete with ovens and a walk-in fridge. (The interior is based on a real place, Mr. Beef, which is owned by Storer family friend Chris Zucchero.)

The actors not only prepared much of the onscreen food — Edebiri speaks fondly of the scene in which she and White concocted "really good" breaded chicken — they collaborated with Matheson and Courtney Storer to perfect their choreography. "There are little nuances in a kitchen that people don't think about," Matheson says. "Like, you need to bang on the walk-in to make sure nobody's in there, so you don't open it on someone carrying a plate of food. It led to some beautiful moments."

Given all those warm memories, Storer admits that he would have been satisfied if "just a few people" had queued up his ultrapersonal series last summer. "We thought it was good, but you just have no real control over what people watch," he says. Nobody truly expected the show — along with the catchphrase 'Yes, chef!' — would enter the public consciousness in such a hurry.

"We were on a group text and sending reviews to one another in those first few days," White says. "Everyone was so kind to us." With no traditional overnight ratings, Calo shares that she knew viewers were paying attention when "my dad's friends started contacting him." And Edebiri notes, "It didn't start hitting me until my friends from home started contacting me. It's like, 'Hey, guys, I'm actually doing it! I'm not just living in L.A.!'"

If you've read this far, you probably already know — spoiler approaching — that The Bear's first season ended with Carmy's shocking discovery that his deceased brother had stashed plastic-wrapped wads of cash inside sealed cans of tomato sauce. "We wanted to do something kind of super magical, absurdist, weird and nutty," Storer says.

Flush with all that money — actually an old $300,000 loan from Oliver Platt's Uncle Jimmy investor character — Carmy posts a note on Chicagoland's door announcing that the shop is closing. Coming soon: A new restaurant called The Bear.

The transition, of course, will be the opposite of smooth.

Speaking a few weeks before the start of season-two production, Storer teases that Carmy et al. "will be working the whole season on opening a restaurant. ... Joanna, Matty and I are constantly aware of this concept where winning can feel a lot like losing. And though you have all this momentum, the same problems can come up in different ways."

Is Original Beef of Chicagoland still open? "You'll see everything you love about the first one, plus wrinkles."

Could Carmy and Sydney ever pursue a romantic relationship? "It's a partnership. You'll see."

Will viewers learn more about the characters' personal lives? "We'll see."

Will Bernthal appear in more flashbacks? "You'll have to wait and see."

Beyond avoiding spoilers, there's a reason for the cryptic answers. As Calo explains, "This is our last grasp at feeling like a discovery again. Not revealing specifics is the only thing we have going for us. I loved being under the radar. For people to discover us felt really special."

White cops to concerns about resuming a series that's now firmly entrenched in the zeitgeist — especially because the first season felt so insular on- and off-camera. "There are so many ideas and perspectives being thrown around," he says. "I want to keep the story ours and keep our brains clear on what we want to achieve."

Nonetheless, he adds, "I'm confident we can go back to our little bubble. Ayo, Ebon, Lionel and I may just be taking a few more photos on location."

And surely fans will be ready to savor it all, even if a little antacid (and tissues) may be required. "Like a lot of businesses out there, this is a show that can go from very sweet to very intense," Storer says. "But at the end of the day, it's about kindness and connecting with people."

Executive producers for The Bear are creator Christopher Storer along with Joanna Calo, Hiro Murai, Josh Senior and Nate Matteson. The series is produced by FX Productions.

The interviews for this story were completed before the start of the WGA strike on May 2.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #7, 2023, under the title, "Yes, Chef!"

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