A chef's review of 'Burnt'

Burnt

Bradley Cooper's film, Burnt, about a bad-boy chef who doesn't play by the rules has been pretty much panned since it hit cinemas a few days ago. But alongside all the cliches, like the smashing plates and turning over tables in a rage, is there any basis in reality to the film?

We asked Jon Atashroo, head chef at The Richmond, for his thoughts on Bradley's turn in the kitchen:

“Bradley Cooper plays Adam Jones, the rock ’n' roll, too-cool-for-school, arrogant and driven chef, in this film pretty well. But so he should, as after spending time in Restaurant Gordon Ramsay for the role – and with Marcus Wareing consulting – it isn't surprising that he can ape the chef world so well.

There are obviously some minor flaws. Shucking oysters at the start of the day, rather than freshly opening them to order? A single mother having the time to work in a two-star restaurant? And not one member of this kitchen world ever looks tired, let alone grossly unfit to work.

The plot is simple but interesting, as you want him to both succeed and fail miserably. The characterisation is involving, not just the love-hate feelings towards the Adam, but all the other characters as well. You want Sienna Miller – who plays chef Helene, and Adam's love interest – to succeed against all odds. You understand Michel (the sous chef, played by Omar Sy) and his betrayal and you feel for Tony, the restaurant owner (played by Daniel Bruhl) and his unrequited love for Adam. It’s a story, a journey of self-discovery and learning with an overarching end message that leaves you with a positive, happy feeling that they will succeed and do so together.

"You want him to both succeed and fail miserably"

Shame that’s all horseshit. My problem with a film like this is that it’s too easy. Yes there are nods and references to the long hours, 20-hour days in Paris and two whole shots of the boys deep-cleaning the kitchen after a service; but these are mere padding to the film.

Whilst chefs like myself will see these glimpses and understand them for what they are – the hours of toil and sweat that mostly go unrewarded – I fear most civvies (non-chefs, in chef parlance) will simply gloss over them. An unremarkable couple of shots or one-liners.

Like when Helene is made to apologise to a turbot, to a piece of fish. The audience laughed, it was funny, comical, ridiculous. I’ve done it. You feel so small, guilty, like such as asshole, that you let your attention slip for no more than a minute and overcooked something that died for the pleasure of being on your plate.

Burnt

I hope the intention of these sort of films – money aside – is to encourage people into the industry, a good profession which rewards hard work and allows for some creativity. But I worry though that new recruits are given a false impression of what awaits them. The world isn’t about creating new dishes, playing with ingredients and writing impressive sounding menus whilst you drink coffee and flirt with the cute girl on the sauce section. It is toil and graft, constant repetition until you understand every facet of each job.

Granted, in Burnt we are not following an average chef, leading the average lifestyle, as that would make for very dull viewing. But for me, there is just no link to reality in the film. The implication is if you work at something hard enough, you can achieve your goals, however high you dare to dream.

"The chef world isn’t about writing impressive sounding menus whilst you drink coffee and flirt with the cute girl on the sauce section."

The dream for Adam is for his restaurant, Adam Jones at The Langham, to earn three Michelin stars straightaway. This is an impossible achievement. If a chef has been out of cooking for a number of years, like Adam has, he or she will need to earn their stars again, usually one at a time. Even Alain Ducasse, the world's most celebrated Michelin chef, opened The Dorchester with two stars, but it took him a total of three years to attain three stars.

This is where it becomes difficult. Yes, you can push yourself, you can work, develop, change and adapt but not for an unlimited time. To work constantly under that pressure and scrutiny for a number of years isn't portrayed here. I guess what it comes down to is that you can’t cheat your way to success.  

Perhaps it is possible to achieve the ultimate cooking dream (and manage to do it all in a 90-minute movie time frame) but it certainly helps if, like Adam, you let someone buy you a restaurant and have unlimited resources to hire and pay staff and not have to worry about wastage or profit margins. Even the occasional lawsuit wasn't a hindrance to him. This was similar to the glossy, happy ending in that other recent movie, Chef. But this is Hollywood, their job is to sell the dream and leave you with that warm glow so you'll tell your friends about it, or buy the straight-to-DVD sequel for your brother-in-law who you don't really like.

It's also worth a watch if you want understand the motivation and drive of the worlds top chefs. But if you’re considering the industry as a career and you think that this will be the inspirational push to make you leave your day job – go home and rent Ratatouille because Burnt has about the same amount of relevance to the reality.”