Why The Bear Is The Show All Foodies Should Be Watching

For foodies looking to indulge their senses through a screen, reality shows are often the only answer. Unscripted TV is overflowing with food programming: "Top Chef" has an infinite number of seasons, the Food Network is still going strong, every channel seems to have its own signature chef, and even streaming services are getting in on the action. But after 20 seasons of Gordon Ramsay yelling about lamb sauce while traumatized chefs quake in fear, this structure gets a little old. At the very least, it wouldn't hurt to have something new in the mix to keep things fresh. And that's where fiction comes in.

Much like storytelling, food is universal, so when fiction meets the culinary arts, stories have the potential to get deliciously interesting. But just like any juicy concept, it doesn't always come together perfectly. The subgenre is already crowded with well-worn clichés and entries that can't seem to strike the balance between drama and food immersion. If you've been craving a fictional deep-dive into the culinary world, then look no further than Original Beef of Chicagoland, the gritty-yet-gourmet sandwich shop at the center of the new FX series, "The Bear."

The series takes viewers through the inner workings of what appears to be a hole-in-the-wall takeout place, the kind of restaurant that thrives on regulars and holds a special place in the heart of its locals. But sometimes things change. In this case, Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) becomes an avatar for change when he pivots from his career track as an award-winning, up-and-coming chef to running a small-time restaurant with bright ideas, unrelenting passion, and lots of PTSD. Now, just a few weeks after its debut, "The Bear" is making waves with rave reviews from critics — and it's not hard to see why.

The key ingredients

I know that I'm not alone in my affinity for food-focused stories. Food is just one of those things that we can all find ourselves lost in, and "The Bear" knows exactly how to charm us with that universality. Despite all the yelling, cursing, and chaos, there's a warm, gooey center to this tale. Plus, it's exactly the kind of story that'll appeal to anyone entrenched in millennial foodie culture.

Carmy is introduced with all the key culinary credentials of a future celebrity chef: He's a prodigy who was named a Food and Wine Best New Chef before 21. He won the coveted James Beard Award. And he's known for stints at all the most-celebrated restaurants, including Noma, French Laundry, and Eleven Madison Park. If those callouts aren't enticing enough, then maybe you'll latch onto his new partner-in-crime, ambitious new hire, Sydney (Ayo Edebiri). She has a very familiar food-lover story — she's so full of drive and passion that she put herself through culinary school. As for the restaurant, once the transformation begins, Original Beef of Chicagoland becomes something very familiar.

It's still a gritty sandwich joint, but with a lot more finesse. They start serving risotto in place of spaghetti; in lieu of a messy beef sandwich, you can order a whole roasted chicken; and they even make their own ice cream! Most importantly, they get glowing reviews from critics. This is the kind of restaurant that would become an internet sensation, blowing up on TikTok or getting constant Instagram buzz. And don't even get me started on the food porn of it all — the glistening sauces, juicy slices of beef, meat always sizzling in the background with serious ASMR potential. If you're looking to sit back and marvel at the culinary majesty of it all, then this show certainly has you covered.

The Bear is grounded in authenticity

Those may be the appetizing essentials, but that just scratches the surface of what "The Bear" has to offer. Restaurant stories are often told in clichés: The kitchens are cutthroat, brimming with sexual tension, alcohol abuse, and neurotic perfectionism, all while being led by a hypercritical chef who's a bonafide genius with obvious anger issues. But this isn't the story of some tortured genius changing the culinary world for the better. "The Bear' is much more down to earth. It's about the daily grind of working day in and day out — not just to build something, but to maintain it.

We see Carmy doing everything he can just to keep the doors open, one service at a time. One minute a toilet is exploding, and the next the power is going out. Then there's not enough beef, or there are too many orders. An argument breaks out somewhere. An injury stalls work. It's endless hurdles.

While there's no denying Carmy's talents, he's also a hot mess, coming apart at the seams while he runs the restaurants, mourns his brother, and battles anxiety. Every now and then, his anger has to be checked, but he never becomes the irredeemable, monstrous chef that usually leads these stories. In flashbacks, we see him endure much more verbal abuse than he ever dishes out, but he's still human and makes mistakes of his own. He fails as a leader or loses his temper, but it's never for the sake of being a caricature. And as the series progresses, Carmy learns that he needs to change and starts to accept help. So while "The Bear" puts those staple ingredients to good use, the star of the dish is easily the characters: Carmy and his crew, his found family, all of whom are rough around the edges but building towards something better themselves.

The mesmerizing kitchen chaos

The character-driven story gives each of crew members the centerstage, and at the same time, it never loses focus of the glue binding this story together. The food and the kitchen work aren't set decoration or a jumping-off point for some grander tale — the kitchen is everything. Even the world's kindest show about cooking, "The Great British Bake-Off," can't help but emphasize the pressure cooker that a kitchen quickly becomes: the heat of the stove, the constant movement, and the struggle of multitasking, not to mention the timer breathing down their necks. 

"The Bear" hyperfixates on that energy and immerses us in its details. The adrenaline rush caused by the rhythms of the kitchen is ever-present. There's an intentional redundancy to it: onions are chopped, meat is sliced, and beef is seared. Rinse and repeat: we watch donuts made from start to finish, hear the sprinkles of sugar, watch it bathed in a glistening glaze. The various cooks shuffle through the kitchen, carrying trays, juggling tasks, and shifting objects as the camera weaves through.

The kitchen chaos isn't just mesmerizing, it's overwhelming. Before long, we're swallowing the same fears as the cooks, holding our breath as orders come in, grappling with new menu ideas, laughing at the quippy, kitchen banter, paling when things go wrong. Carmy wakes up early to scrub the kitchen floors while the sun streams in through the window, and his exhaustion is palpable. When Marcus (Lionel Boyce) slowly drips a glaze over his perfected chocolate cake, it's euphoric. 

"The Bear" understands that culinary culture, the craft of cooking, the grind, and the people who make it all possible, can't be separated. So it combines them into one addictively watchable show.