A chef in search of perfection

The film Burnt has received a panning by most of the critics, but I loved it. It’s the story of a chef who, having conquered the inner demons that destroyed his glittering career in Paris, comes to London, gets a job in a top restaurant, and is determined to win three Michelin stars.

The film opens with the central character Adam Jones, played by the excellent Bradley Cooper, shucking oysters in a restaurant kitchen in New Orleans and recording the number he in a notebook. When he reaches a million he walks out of the restaurant, his self-imposed penance for his drug and alcohol abuse completed.

When he arrives in London, Tony, his former maitre d’, played by Daniel Brühl, reluctantly takes him on as the head chef of his white table restaurant.

He assembles a hot team of chefs and sets out on his Michelin goal. If you’ve ever read Marco Pierre White’s Devil in the Kitchen or Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, you’ll know what to expect in the kitchen. It’s all here: ego, shouting, plates being flung at kitchen walls, staff being publicly humiliated. “Speak to the turbot, not me!” he tells Helene, a talented chef, played by Sienna Miller, after she makes an error cooking her fish.

The film showed how some chefs can become obsessed with achieving three Michelin stars and be filled with jealousy and almost hatred for rival chefs who have already pulled this off. Cooking becomes not so much about making the customers happy but more about pleasing the restaurant critics and Michelin inspectors.

When Adam refuses to give Helene half a day off for her daughter’s birthday, she brings her to the restaurant and Tony looks after her. Tony comes into the kitchen and tells Adam to bake her a cake. Adam thinks he must be joking. He’s chasing Michelin stars. He can’t be bothered with making cakes for children. “You’re a chef, aren’t you? So bake her a cake,” orders Tony. Adam goes into the restaurant and presents the little girl with the cake, asking her what she thinks of it.  After taking a slice, she says, “I’ve tasted better.” She’s doesn’t care about Michelin stars, just a nice cake. Adam has been brought down to earth by a child.

With Gordon Ramsey, Marcus Wareing and Mario Batali all having a hand in the film we can be sure that what we see in the kitchen of a top restaurant is accurate.

Burnt might not get an Oscar nomination, but it was a gripping and fascinating portrayal of the life of a chef and the search for perfection. And I came away from the cinema wondering why it is that we haven’t had more films about chefs. If you want drama, then you’ll often find plenty of it in a professional kitchen.


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