Yes, Chef: “The Bear’s”Jeremy Allen White Remembers His Time Training at ICE
The buzzworthy TV show of the summer takes viewers behind-the-scenes into a restaurant kitchen — where they see ICE’s culinary training on screen.
“The Bear,” FX/Hulu’s hit show from Christopher Storer featuring Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri, is stressful. Really stressful. And that’s probably because it’s one of — if not the — most realistic adaptations of what a functioning restaurant kitchen looks like on screen.
Mr. White plays Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, a talented chef who has risen through the ranks in Michelin-starred kitchens in New York City. At the beginning of the series, Carmy finds himself back in his hometown of Chicago running his late brother’s casual Italian beef eatery that was left to him after his brother’s sudden suicide.
Like most kitchens, anxiety runs high in “The Bear” (and like many of my peers in the restaurant and hospitality industry, I particularly felt this in Episode 7). There’s hazing. There’s yelling. There’s kitchen catastrophes, recipe testing, restaurant reviews, backed up tickets and $300,000 worth of debt. But there’s also teamwork and camaraderie, a brigade, family meal, constructive feedback and lots of communication (even if it’s in the form of yelling).
The show is good — really good. The show’s creator, Christopher Storer, has a long history with the food industry. He’s made several restaurant documentaries and is currently co-owner of Mr. Beef in Chicago, in which the series is filmed. His sister, Courtney Storer, cooked at Ludo Lefebvre’s Trois Mec as well as Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s Animal, both in Los Angeles, for nearly a decade.
And both Mr. White and Ms. Edebiri took an intensive boot camp at ICE’s Los Angeles campus to prepare for the show.
“I couldn’t have gotten into ‘The Bear’ or gone into the environment that I went into without ICE,” Mr. White says. “I was really clueless — and that’s not me being modest or humble — I had no experience in the kitchen at all.”
Led by ICE LA’s Lead Chef-Instructor for Culinary Arts, Cyril Kabaoglu, the intensive included everything from knife skills and making stock to grilling and rolling out fresh pasta dough.
“I think Ayo was a bit more prepared, but we learned all the basics, knife work and also I think what I needed to learn was sort of the movement of the kitchen,” Mr. White says. “That’s really important — kitchens are tight. There’s sort of a dance and choreography involved; there’s a language to it. And so aside from the cooking we did, which was incredibly helpful, it was so nice to have somebody with you who’s been in the industry for such a long time to ask questions.”
Chef Cyril taught the art of timeliness in a kitchen; arriving to work 15 minutes ahead of schedule meant that you were on time, and arriving ‘on time’ meant that you were, in fact, late.
“They were very nervous but very respectful of the craft of our industry,” Chef Cyril says. “They gave exactly what I’m looking for in students, they gave a lot of seriousness and they wanted to do the best job they could.”
Chef Cyril’s agenda included a restaurant fire simulation with other ICE students.
“That was a shove that was necessary,” Mr. White says. “It was pretty comfortable, I wasn’t afraid to make mistakes and that was by design. All of a sudden you’re not just responsible for yourself and what you’re learning but you’re responsible for all these other students who are hoping to not play a chef on tv but go into the industry and succeed. The pressure was definitely on once we did that.”
On the final day, Chef Cyril asked Mr. White for any final requests before his departure. He requested repetition.
“So Chef said, ‘we’re going to make some eggs,” he recalls.
Cases of eggs were brought in and Chef Cyril instructed Mr. White to keep constantly moving his hands across the different pans. The goal was to find the ease and fluidity chefs have when managing multiple tasks at once.
“I think I made 60 eggs that day, maybe 70, 75. But it was so helpful because I was working that muscle in your forearm which a lot of people don’t have but chefs do have,” Mr. White says.
After his 10-day training at ICE, Mr. White went on to work stations at Dave Beran’s one-Michelin-starred French bistro, Pasjoli, in Santa Monica.
“I would’ve been totally lost without ICE,” Mr. White says. “I wouldn’t have been able to follow how the day was supposed to go. I’m still such a tourist in this world, but I think ICE gave me the knowledge, confidence and the basics to feel somewhat at home in a kitchen environment.”
Mr. White says there are parallels between acting and working in a kitchen: both require a sense of urgency under continual pressure.
“The way that I look at kitchens, especially at Pasjoli’s level and the level that students at ICE aspire to is like a performance,” he says. “It’s not just one cook making a meal and presenting it, you’re working together, you want the environment to be right and you’re performing for your customer or your audience.”
After all the culinary training and the fanfare and applause “The Bear” has received, Mr. White’s respect and admiration for the service industry and the entirety of its components has multiplied.
“I see every restaurant as a miracle, especially in cities like LA, and Chicago and New York, where it’s so competitive and that consistency is so important,” he says. “It has shifted in that way and while I think I knew a lot of work went into becoming a cook and chefs at this level at the restaurants where I was spending time, I equate it to what I imagine becoming a professional athlete in the way that you have to commit your time…that was new information I gathered in the last year that I hadn’t given much thought to previously.”
Yes, Chef. We can’t wait for Season 2.