I enjoyed seeing ‘Burnt’, a movie about an American chef chasing the third Michelin star for his London restaurant, but I was as anxious as his staff about winning the additional star! It provides an excellent perspective on what happens in top restaurant kitchens and dining rooms, and how tough the competition is between top restaurants.
South Africa is one of the first countries in which ‘Burnt‘ has been launched, the American launch only taking place next Friday. Few reviews have been written about the movie, and the film review sites have not been very positive. Bradley Cooper (looking similar to Andy Fenner) is excellent as the hyped-up arrogant chef, never standing or sitting still, goal-driven, but on the run, so to speak, as he closed down his two-star restaurant in Paris, owing money to staff and suppliers. They find him in London, and one of them starts to work for him, getting his revenge on the day it mattered most for perfection in the restaurant. He gets beaten up as a result too, on the day that the Michelin inspectors visit the restaurant, but he gets up and cooks for his life.
We do not have any Michelin-star restaurants in our country, and it is interesting to hear how the inspectors are identified by restaurant staff, and how they evaluate the food. First, they come in pairs, usually two men, one arriving half an hour after the first person. They order half a bottle of wine, and tap water. One orders from the a la carte menu, and the other the Tasting Menu. They purposely drop a serviette on the floor, to check if this is identified by the restaurant staff.
The movie reflects a lot that is bad about restaurant kitchens, which one has heard about locally, or read in books, such as walking out of the job without notice (chef Adam Jones does so after shucking his millionth oyster he had carefully and painfully recorded); abuse of drugs and alcohol; relationships between restaurant staff which go sour and cause one of the two partners to leave the kitchen; and extremely abusive behavior by head chefs to their staff, shouting and screaming at them, throwing their imperfect dishes away, and throwing plates around the kitchen. Hours are long and most staff only have one day a week off. One does not backchat the chef, and says ‘Yes Chef‘ to everything he says! The kitchen and restaurant goes into a spin when a top reviewer or a Michelin inspector is in the house.
Odd is the focus on sous-vide as a current food preparation technique whereby food items are placed in plastic bags, and placed in a water bath at a specific temperature, making the inside of the item moist without overcooking the outside. This method of food preparation has been used since 1974, and particularly in the past six years or so, Chef Heston Blumenthal being one of the users of this technique.
Sienna Miller is a sous chef who lands up in Chef Adam’s kitchen in the movie, a single mother who does not get a lunch shift off on the day of her daughter’s birthday! She is the exception to the kitchen gender, and women in the kitchen are described as bad news, due to the impact they can have on the interaction between staff in restaurant kitchens. But it is the sous chef who looks after him when he is really at rock bottom, and she teaches him about trusting his team: ‘trust us, we’re your family’.
I read that Bradley Cooper received training in creating dishes from Marcus Wareing, a MasterChef UK judge and a 2 Michelin-star (Marcus restaurant) protégé of Chef Gordon Ramsay, not only in tantrums but also in food making and cake decorating (e.g. how to decorate a cake with gold dust blown off the edge of a knife blade). Getting a third Michelin star is the ‘yoda‘, the movie title referring not to burnt food, but more to burn out, the price to pay for chasing Michelin stars.
A Bloomberg journalist took New York Michelin-star restaurant chef Elise Kornack from Take Root restaurant to see ‘Burnt’. She found little to fault, other than too large a frond of fennel on a piece of fish. She too once walked out of her job. She criticized the food wastage shown in the movie, in good but not perfect-enough food being thrown away. Dish washing is also not shown. Chef Elise does not have sous-vide equipment in her kitchen.
Locally chef Bertus Basson from Overture has the reputation of some of Chef Adam Jones’ behavior. Chef Liam Tomlin from Chefs Warehouse & Canteen too has a recorded reputation which he brought with him from his former top Sydney restaurant Banc.
‘Burnt’, Labia Cinema, Cape Town. www.burntmovie.com Twitter:@Burntmovie
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here