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Is Burnt Accurate?

Burnt Gets a Lot of Things Right About Restaurant Life — but a Few Things Very Wrong

"Did Hollywood's interpretation of restaurant work make you cringe?" My boyfriend asked as we left the movie screening for Burnt. I replied that yes, it did, and I struggled to decide if it was due to some of the blatant inaccuracies of the film or the movie's ability to resurface the post-traumatic stress of my nine-year stint working in kitchens. I think a bit of both. I exited the theater feeling as emotionally beat up as a 17-hour shift (yeah, that's normal), and that's probably why, like some chefs' responses to the film, it hit a little too close to home. In case you're wondering if the film realistically portrays restaurant life, here are the ways in which it does and four examples of how it doesn't.

What's Accurate:

  1. Shucking oysters is definitely purgatory. Bradley Cooper's character sentences himself to shucking 1 million oysters in a sh*tty New Orleans bar as a way to forgive himself for ruining his professional life. It's gruesome work and takes a toll on your wrists and your soul.
  2. The heat is very intense. We first meet Sienna Miller's character pouring sweat during service. BTW, some chefs (usually not women) do drip sweat in your food. Working with 500 degree ovens and gas stovetops (which on low are more powerful than a home stovetop on high), it's impossible not to be constantly "melting."
  3. Hot-button issues have yet to be sorted out. The film doesn't glaze over important, highly-debated topics like molecular gastronomy (sous-vide cooking and laboratory-like kitchens), the unfair pay wages of line cooks, and women's struggle toward chefdom and balancing motherhood.
  4. Chef tantrums are unfortunately true. A kitchen is a symphony, and the film brilliantly demonstrated how if one person doesn't follow instructions and ignores the status of all the other stations, the whole system comes crashing down. And yes, the chef will scream in your face and smash plates (as long as they aren't precious) or force you to taste your f*ck up.
  5. The work is long, stressful, and barf-inducing. Working in a kitchen is hard labor, and the film didn't try to make it look like a walk in the park. The hours, atmosphere, and demands aren't for the weak of heart.
  6. The passion takes over your life. It's an obsession, and to be the best often means your relationships, sleep, eating, and sanity all suffer in exchange for creating orgasmic food.

What's Not:

  1. Serious relationships in the kitchen. Inter-kitchen hook ups happen all the time, and what's even more common is chefs getting busy with the always-cute, perfectly manicured wait staff. But thriving, serious relationships like the one between Bradley and Sienna's character (sorry *spoiler alert*) are as rare as sushi. A chef usually can't commit to anything or anyone other than him/herself slaying the culinary arts.
  2. The chef-to-chef competition. The restaurant community is tight-knit, and the chefs I've known and worked for are supportive of each other. Professional cooks know how hard you have to work to make it, so unlike the movie, there's no bad blood (that I can speak of) between Michelin restaurant chefs or attempts to shutter each other's restaurants.
  3. Earning Michelin stars. Between the time frame it takes to earn three stars, the qualifications, the number of an inspector's visits, and quirks of a Michelin inspector, the movie gets everything so. wrong.
  4. Generous paychecks to unknown cooks. Salaries are not tripled in the restaurant world even for Michelin-starred restaurant line cooks. Working in these restaurants is a privilege, so the paycheck typically matches industry standards. As awesome as it was to see that Sienna's character is offered a very generous paycheck, neither your cooking chops nor your good looks will earn you such an exorbitant amount.

At any rate, Burnt does get to the heart of the industry and is an exhilarating, mouthwatering ride. The movie uncovers the labor, sweat, blood, and sometimes tears required to make perfect dishes magically appear in front of restaurant goers.

Image Source: The Weinstein Company
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