Kitchen Confidential: Movies & TV Shows that Turn up the Heat in the Kitchen

Andrew Buckle,

Celebrity chef, author and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain, whose tragic passing in 2018 shocked the culinary, literary and entertainment worlds, is a major part of the inspiration for this article. The Bear, the extraordinary drama series that now has two season available to watch on Disney+, is the other catalyst for this list of movies and TV shows that are set within the hustle and bustle of the kitchen – reveling in both the grandiose and the grit & grind – and explore the eclectic bunch of characters that make their living there.

Bourdain has perhaps become best-known for his cultural adventure programs No Reservations (2005-2012) and Parts Unknown (2013-2018), but he was also a veteran of the professional kitchen, including a period spent as Executive Chef of Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan. He is also a best-selling author, and this is the part where I recommend you read his work if you have an interest in what he has experienced.

After reading his first best-seller, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, a passionately recounted, brutally honest and often shocking series of tales of a career in the kitchen, I found the dichotomy between the pristine features of the fine dining restaurant hall and the explosive energy of the debauchery-filled preparation trenches to be fascinating. This was a world of supremely-talented individuals working long hours under extreme pressure, satisfying their menu through sheer sweat and urgency, while trying to fill out their lives on the side. What a world to set a film, or a base a TV series. Thankfully there have been some wonderful portrayals of this unique lifestyle.

Some of the examples, such as Boiling Point, Burnt and the aforementioned The Bear have focused on the powder-keg drama, and the physical and emotional strain of working under pressure that Bourdain has so grippingly unveiled. Some, like the TV series Sweetbitter, embrace the hard-partying lifestyle of the service professionals. Others have adopted a more optimistic view. Though they are no less attentive to the details and the workings of the kitchen, there is more visual celebration of the food that is prepared and accentuate the positive relationships that emerge. These examples include Ratatouille, Chef and No Reservations.

Here is a video we have put together showcasing some of these movies and TV series.

So, for a true-to-life account of the experiences of a professional chef, familiarise yourself with the work of Anthony Bourdain. Or read on to learn about a selection of these dramatisations, each with their share of convincing simulations. Some are intense and stressful to watch as the professionals deal with an especially eventful dinner rush, some present powerful and invigorating character development, and some capture the joyous and uplifting camaraderie that is built through the shared culinary creations. Or, in the case of The Bear, all of these things.

The Bear Season 1-2 (2022-23)

Cast: Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Ayo Edebiri, Lionel Boyce, Liza Colon-Zayas, Edwin Lee Gibson, Corey Hendrix, Richard Esteras, Abby Elliott

Significance: The first two seasons of this masterful series take audiences on a complex emotional journey with these fascinatingly flawed characters. Gripping from the opening minutes, the mounting tension drawn from the chaos in the kitchen is captured through the rapid editing, which aligns an audience with Carmy’s (Jeremy Allen White, Shameless) overwhelmed mental state. There is a resemblance to the Safdie Bros. Uncut Gems in this sense. As the staff begin to gel – Carmy encourages creativity from his younger chefs and finds ways to connect with his volatile cousin, Jackie – and as Carmy starts to get a handle of the mess he has been left and the path towards turning the restaurant around, there is greater focus on the development of character and scenes are played out longer to fully allow the situations to resonate. There are touching and rather lovely moments here too but, as was established, a plunge back into stress-mode is never far away. Wonderful performances and carefully-calibrated plotting are enhanced by the thoroughly convincing setting – the claustrophobic spaces of the store room and Carmy’s paperwork-strewn office, for example, play their role here – as well as the richly drawn details of Chicago culture.

Stream now on Disney+.

Boiling Point (2021)

Cast: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Hannah Walters, Ray Panthaki, Jason Flemyng, Alice Feetham, Izuka Hoyle

Significance: An expansion of a short film of the same name, Boiling Point is comprised entirely of one unbroken shot. This bold formal approach to telling this gripping tale of a major professional meltdown is undoubtedly a successful maneuver, carried by a committed cast headlined by the towering Stephen Graham. Head chef Andy Jones (Graham) arrives at his restaurant, Jones & Sons, in a frenzied and vulnerable state, seemingly unfit to lead his kitchen. An embarrassing health & safety downgrade immediately preceding the overbooked night service – which includes a celebrity chef and his food critic guest – results in brewing conflict. The drama is expertly coordinated, with the camera tracking movement from back alley trash dumps, as it snakes through the main prep area and bar and out onto the floor of the restaurant, following Jones as he navigates his mounting personal and professional crises (his phone is relentlessly buzzing) as well as wait staff whose activity introduces and links the congealing plot points. Boiling Point presents this environment as a toxic and destructive hellscape for those caught unprepared or out of their depth.

Buy or rent in the Movie Store.

Burnt (2015)

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Omar Sy, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman, Riccardo Scamarcio, Lily James, Emma Thompson, Matthew Rhys

Significance: Written by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders, Spencer), this is an acid-fueled drama that spotlights how a claustrophobic and ego-fueled kitchen – relentlessly under pressure to not only deliver, but maintain a high standard – can struggle to gel. Burnt is a star-studded big-budget drama made for a broad audience, but it certainly doesn’t have ‘entertainment’ front of mind. Here, the characters – as they attempt to fulfill head chef Adam Jones’ (Bradley Cooper) dream of redemption – are always threatening to combust. A decorated but arrogant chef, as talented as they may be, can fail in winning over their staff (whether they are veterans of this specific kitchen, or newcomers with fresh ideas) if they resort to unsavory motivation tactics and lack the human skills required. While the drama certainly bears resemblance to the environment Bourdain has described, it’s Cooper’s intense work as a Gordon Ramsay-esque chef that makes Burnt a fulfilling, if at times uncomfortable, watch.

Buy or rent in the Movie Store.

Chef (2014)

Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Bobby Carnevale, Amy Sedaris

Significance: This is a feel-good story of professional re-invention, and the often difficult process of dropping one’s pretensions, pursuing something completely different and ultimately rediscovering what brings joy. Carl Casper’s career needed a make-over and the ramshackle old food truck that he transforms is the vehicle he needs. While the sandwiches are mouth-wateringly good – there’s no shortage of food porn here – this is just a pleasant and uplifting story, if certainly a little self-congratulatory on the part of director-star Jon Favreau. It is road movie that spreads the love of flavor and unites communities through celebrity with some nice modern touches – a montage of Casper’s son’s promotional tweets, which serve as beacons of where Casper’s food truck is headed next – and a toe-tapping soundtrack. This is a story of a career chef, who manages to makes the most of a major life pivot while preserving what he loves.

Buy or rent in the Movie Store.

Aftertaste Season 1-2 (2021)

Cast: Erik Thompson, Natalie Abbott, Rachel Griffiths, Wayne Blair, Susan Prior, Peter Carroll

Significance: This Australian comedy series certainly shares some of the themes in Chef, a celebrity chef searching for a way to restore his reputation. Whereas Casper, courtesy of his son’s social media prowess, starts to embrace the public spotlight again, Easton West (Erik Thompson) needs to do some soul-searching as he accepts his public “cancellation” and face that the world has turned it’s back on the angry, domineering white guy schtick. This endearing local series is a quick binge – 12 episodes have been released to date – that steps outside of the kitchen to study the emotional wellbeing of a man who has lost a prideful part of himself to his profession.

Buy episodes or seasons in the TV Store or stream on ABC iView.

Ratatouille (2007)

Voice Cast: Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, Peter O’Toole, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Will Arnett, James Remar

Significance: Amongst the many towering achievements that have come out of the Pixar Animation Studios over the years Ratatouille might be one of the most impressive. This is a delightful film that features some of the most delicious-looking animated food this side of Studio Ghibli and the films of Hayao Miyazaki, and one of the most ambitious narratives in a Pixar film. While the relationship between Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a rat with impeccable taste, and Linguini, a clumsy kitchenhand, will charm the youngsters, it’s the sweeping coverage of the kitchen-at-work and the incredible attention to detail that has consistently left us in awe.

Stream now on Disney+.

Big Night (1996)

Cast: Tony Shalhoub, Stanley Tucci, Isabella Rossellini, Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, Marc Anthony, Allison Janney, Campbell Scott

Significance: Co-directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott, working from an award-winning screenplay by Tucci and Joseph Tropiano, this charming and amusing comedy-drama is a sure-bet for foodies, and an appreciation for the love and dedication that it takes to run a successful enterprise. In an attempt to revitalise their business brothers Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) sink all of their savings into creating a magnificent feast to satisfy what they believe will be an expanded patronage accompanying to the visit of a celebrated musician. This is the motivation they needed, and Primo’s expertise, and perfectionist tendencies, are praised on the food. Of course, when events don’t go as planned, conflict ensues (they are brothers after all), but these higher stakes might serve them a much-needed lesson in how they work together.

Purchase on Prime Video.

No Reservations (2007)

Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson, Jenny Wade, Bob Balaban, Lily Rabe, Zoë Kravitz

Significance: This pleasant, if predictable, rom-com is actually an adaptation of the German film Mostly Martha (2001) with the charisma of Zeta-Jones and Eckhart carrying this exploration of the challenges of balancing parenthood with your profession. In the kitchen Kate is a force – she plates her food to perfection, but can be overbearing and intimidating if her examples aren’t followed – and where she finds comfort. But, she doesn’t have any maternal instincts and no time for love life. Following the arrival of her niece in the wake of a tragedy, and a new sous-chef in her kitchen, Kate learns that there’s a new brand of chemistry she needs to focus on. As with all of the above examples, the food looks incredible and for Zoë Kravitz fans, No Reservations features her first feature film role.

Stream now on Stan.

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