Hulu’s ‘The Bear’ finally validates the role of restaurant women like me

Thanks to hit TV series “The Bear” for daring to show audiences what it’s really like to run a restaurant. Spoiler: It’s ugly.

For decades, movies and shows have romanticized running a kitchen. Hulu’s summer hit finally hits the mark — and as a restaurant wife (AKA a working widow), I finally feel validated.

Twenty-three years ago I met my husband Shane at a Cape Cod restaurant where he was the chef and I was a waitress. I was won over by his work ethic, his ability to host hundreds of dinner parties a night, and yes, his knack for preparing dishes that made me put on 10 pounds after a few months of dating.

Every night behind the line, he gave it his all and thrived on adrenaline and the chaos of the kitchen. It made working with him fun. And there was something sexy about a guy who commanded the kitchen and lived and breathed his work with determination and passion.

Our first date was a quick lunch at the beach between the 80 hours a week he was at the restaurant. We laughed as we sat in the sand and ate sandwiches, but it was a harbinger that our relationship would always be stuck between work.

While we were dating, I went to weddings and holiday get-togethers alone, trying to explain to my friends and family that my boyfriend had to work Thanksgiving, Easter, and even Christmas (the restaurant didn’t wasn’t open that day, but he still felt compelled to check). They understood, and yet they did not understand. Monica was a chef in “Friends” and she never missed a dinner or a weekend with her tribe. Why did he do it?

Shane’s unwavering dedication was a hard thing to explain until Hulu’s ‘The Bear’ featured Carmen Berzatto, a talented chef who struggles to keep her restaurant afloat with a willingness to sacrifice anything that gets in the way. of his way. “Carmy,” as she is called, might as well be a younger version of my wife.

Amy McHugh and her family
Amy McHugh, left, and her family on Cape Cod in July 2020.Courtesy of Amy McHugh

The industry strains relationships and runs amok with mental health disorders and addictions. It’s one that leaves a lot to be desired for those of us on the outside, but it calls people who sacrifice everything to be a part of it.

Like so many chefs, my husband found a purpose and a sense of belonging in the restaurant, which he eventually became part owner of. He thrives on the thrill of doing the seemingly impossible: serving over 500 dinners in four hours, sometimes without a sous-chef. The challenge of proving himself by keeping up the pace kept him coming back for more.

“The Bear” shows the urgency of this jostling. Even before the pandemic, 60% of restaurants closed in their first year and 80% in their first five. Food becomes secondary to the reality that even the best chefs and restaurants fail. It’s a constant struggle to stay afloat.

Yet our culture perpetuates a romantic version of the life of a leader. Culinary series such as “The Mind of a Chef” and “Chef’s Table” feature groomed professionals in immaculate chef’s smocks whose biggest decision of the day is to zest lemon or lime on a piece of Grilled fish.

Much more specific is a scene from “The Bear” in which Carmy’s sister, who co-owns the restaurant, tells him, “We never really spend time together. This place is eating you alive. All of our time, our money, our work is sucked into this place. The only thing we recover is chaos, resentment. It’s bulls —.

I’ve told my husband everything countless times.

We skipped a honeymoon as our wedding was during tourist season in Cape Town. It turned into evenings, weekends and missed birthdays, our daughters’ birthdays and school events. “It’s not gonna happen,” he texted minutes before an elementary school talent show.

There was no discussion, however. When you marry a leader, you marry the company. And it’s the one that requires tunnel vision because there’s always something wrong. The Fryolator is broken, a dishwasher doesn’t show up for its shift, or the dining room fan is dripping “black shit” all over the floor. There’s an urgency and panic when something happens that could bring the restaurant down with a missed service or two.

Jeremy Allen White as Carmine 'Carmy' Berzatto in
Jeremy Allen White as Carmine ‘Carmy’ Berzatto in ‘The Bear’.Effects

“The Bear” shows overflowing toilets and staff scrambling to clean them so they can open their doors. My husband has done it too – more than once.

For decades he slept with his phone next to the bed “just in case”. In the middle of the night, he gets calls because a cook got run over on his bike and is in the emergency room or a balloon has set off the alarm system and he needs to meet someone from firefighters in the parking lot.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” he says, putting on a t-shirt and heading to his car.

Yet many films do. “Chef” (2014) and “Burnt” (2015) were great at capturing the electricity of cooking but terrible at showing the reality of being a chef and running a restaurant. After my daughters watched “Ratatouille” (2007), I felt compelled to explain that Remy’s cooking was not like dad’s cooking. I didn’t want them to idealize being a leader – and worse, I didn’t want them to be one.

The movies and shows that continue to warp the restaurant industry make me look and feel crazy. They don’t show a stressed chef (insert my husband smashing his phone on the kitchen tile) trying to bank as much money as he can in the summer to get the restaurant through the lean winter.

It has done a disservice to an industry of workers who are scrambling to save their restaurants, save their relationships, and create beautiful dishes that diners want to eat.

People often tell me that they want to open a restaurant. “No, you don’t,” I said. They assure me that they know what they are getting into. They love food and watch The Food Network. I assure them not. Now I tell them to watch “The Bear” before making their decision. If they’re still going ahead, they can’t say I didn’t warn them.

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