ITension reigns in the back of the house at the Original Beef of Chicagoland. Space is limited. The money is low. Bills literally pile up. There aren’t enough pots and knives. The blender doesn’t work. The meat supplier didn’t deliver enough beef.
This is the world of The Bear, the much-talked-about US TV show that premiered this summer and is finally coming to the UK on October 5th on Disney+. Now British audiences can follow the trials and tribulations of Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, a successful but troubled young chef who returns to Chicago after the sudden death of her brother to run his family’s ailing sandwich shop.
The great appeal of The Bear is that it purports to give viewers a glimpse of a restaurant kitchen. Though it’s been 20 years since Anthony Bourdain published Kitchen Confidential and revealed the restaurants’ secrets — that the chef’s specialties are usually made from yesterday’s leftovers and that hollandaise is a breeding ground for salmonella — the appetite remains to know what going on behind the kitchen doors.
On the show, Carmy and his crew, a collection of idiosyncratic personalities, are stuck together in a confined space, working against the clock to get everything together by opening time and often venting their frustrations on each other.
“It’s an accurate representation of a kitchen,” says Sarah Mispagel, a Chicago baker who has made most of the breads, cakes and donuts featured on the show and who speaks for many chefs. “Yes, it’s embellished, but it’s a TV show. We all aspire to work in fair kitchens with paid sick days and vacations, but a show that had all of that wouldn’t be very exciting.”
The Bear has had a huge impact on real Chicago restaurants. One of this season’s little arcs is Marcus, an aspiring pastry chef, as he quests to create the perfect chocolate cake. (The bear’s creators were inspired by the pie at Portillo’s, a popular local fast-food chain.) When Mispagel and her husband Ben Lustbader opened their own coffee shop, Loaf Lounge, in northwest Chicago in August, they included the pie , which Mispagel made for the show and is labeled as “The Bear Chocolate Cake” on the menu. They now sell 400 discs a week and go out frequently.
“It was great,” she says. “We don’t have very deep pockets. The bear was my PR person.”
The bear has also helped other restaurants. The Original Beef of Chicagoland specializes in Italian beef, a signature Chicago sandwich consisting of seasoned roast beef that’s thinly sliced and stacked on a chewy bun. It’s often topped with peppers or a spicy vegetable relish called giardiniera, or both, and many Chicagoans prefer it wet or au jus. Since the American premiere of The Bear, sales of Italian beef have skyrocketed not just in Chicago but across the country.
But some Chicagoans, always sensitive to any hint of Hollywood’s condescension to the coast, aren’t pleased with the way the city is being portrayed on screen. The Bear is mostly set in the River North neighborhood – scenes were filmed at Mr Beef, a real beef stand in the area – which is portrayed as gritty and without much restaurant, the kind of neighborhood where someone can shoot a gun in the air, like it a character in the first episode does without attracting the attention of the police.
“[The show] flattens the city of Chicago and its contributions to the food scene in a way that I don’t think adequately represents the neighborhood or the city as a whole,” said Ali Barthwell, a Chicago native and author of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. The real River North, Barthwell explains, is an affluent area near the city’s CBD, full of restaurants — some with Michelin stars — and hotels geared toward tourists, and there’s a heavy police presence. “To suggest that people in this neighborhood haven’t seen specially braised short ribs and polenta feels really inaccurate.”
#Decorated #Show #Chicago #Happy #Portrayed #Bear