The Bear is a new hit FX series about an accomplished young chef and walking “I Can Fix Him” named Carmen (Jeremy Allen White) who returns home to run his family’s Chicago sandwich shop in the wake of his brother’s death. Before, he was a rising star at the type of snobby fine dining establishment that plates food with tweezers. This gig mostly involves manhandling big, sloppy hunks of beef and staving off mounting debts. But Carmen is determined to make the place something truly great.
When he first arrives, he tries to apply rigor and systems to the slapdash kitchen of Original Beef of Chicagoland. From what I can tell, he primarily does this by insisting on calling everyone else “chef.”
In the pilot, the word is barked out no fewer than 28 times. (That’s not counting when longtime employee Tina, played by Liza Colón-Zayas, fucks with Carmen by calling him “Jeff.”) The show has quickly become a critical darling, praised for its accurate and lived-in depiction of restaurant kitchens. It’s raw, it’s bitingly funny, and the electrifying pace gives a middle finger to the recent wave of slow TV.
Also, it will make you want to call everyone “chef.”
All the repetition in The Bear hammers home how practical the term is. As Carmen says, “I refer to everybody as ‘chef’ because it’s a sign of respect.” It’s an easy stand-in for “dude,” “bro,” and, when plural, “guys.” It’s extremely gender neutral. And it’s surprisingly helpful in a wide variety of situations. Say, meetings where you forget your colleagues’ names. Or times when you and your spouse are both trying to navigate a galley kitchen that was only designed to comfortably accommodate 55 percent of an adult human.
The Bear definitely isn’t the first time public imagination has been gripped by media involving a chef (see: Top, Iron, Swedish, Jon Favreau). And, of course, there’s been increasing awareness about and outcry against macho, abusive kitchen culture in recent years. A flashback in episode two to Carmen’s previous job at an upscale restaurant shows exactly that atmosphere, where every utterance of “chef” sounds straight up nefarious.
But it doesn’t have to be. Your best friend? Chef. Your boss? Chef. Mom and dad? Chef and chef. Your children? Chefs. Your therapist? Dr. Chef. The anthropomorphic rat you discover is preternaturally gifted in the culinary arts and so you allow him to live under your hat to help you become an acclaimed restaurateur? Chef!!! Eight episodes into The Bear and there is no me or you anymore. There is only “chef.”