Burnt is about Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper), an American chef who rose to fame in a Paris kitchen only to be torn apart by unhealthy obsessions like cocaine, booze and women. After a self-imposed exile in Louisiana, where he shucked literally a million oysters, a clean and sober Jones is now in England trying to revive his career and get the rare third Michelin Star. But his propensity to stir the pot when it comes to building relationships with other restaurateurs may keep him from achieving his goal.
With a history of womanizing, Jones is very standoffish when it comes to his work relationship with Helene (Sienna Miller), a chef he begs to come work for him, then berates in front of the entire kitchen for her tiny imperfections. But his mercurial nature isn't just a random attribute. Celebrity chefs are known for their big egos and need to be in control at all times.
British chef and reality TV star Gordon Ramsay lent his expertise to the film, hoping to make the characters as authentic as possible. Having earned a whopping total of 16 Michelin stars (though two have been taken away), Ramsay is also known for his fiery temperament, cursing at staff and even kicking food critics out of his restaurant. Clearly, the character of Adam Jones was modeled, at least in part, on Ramsay. So why do chefs think they can act like controlling jerks? We have to take a look at history.
For over a century, French cuisine has been considered the center of the culinary universe and revered by the rest of the world. This is partly due to the extreme skills and dedication French chefs have acquired. In a French kitchen, the chef expects to be treated like an emperor or king. This trend may have come about after the French Revolution, when all the most skilled chefs no longer had royal families to cook for and were dispersed throughout the country. Used to demanding perfection for their royal subjects, this controlling kitchen culture then translated into restaurants all over France. Lucky for us, the hard work paid off by producing world-renowned dishes.
Cooper certainly plays Jones like the dictator of his own kitchen. At one point, he describes his personal mission this way: "I don't want my restaurant to be a place where people sit and eat. I want people to sit at that table and be sick with longing." In other words, he wants people to experience pain as part of the experience in his restaurant. He treats his relationships the same way.
As the food heats up on the stove, so does Jones' temper. He screams, yells, throws things and even puts his hands on people, all in between getting beat up by thugs for his past debts. He even once sabotaged a rival chef by putting rats in the rival's kitchen just before the health inspector arrived — a crime for which Jones will pay.
If you're used to the cuddly Cooper of Silver Linings Playbook, his performance in this role may surprise you. The good news is that Cooper doesn't just play Jones as a monster. There are moments when you see real pain and fear flash in his eyes, indicating that his inflated ego may be covering up for his insecurities.
In real life, Cooper has battled his own demons and finally decided to abstain from alcohol when he was 29, and can probably relate to Jones' journey. The film's director, John Wells, said this about casting Cooper: "Bradley is a wonderful actor, and very intelligent, and immediately understood the complexity of Adam's character. He has been very up-front about his own struggles in the past, so I felt he would understand what Adam was going through — how difficult it is to give up your obsessions and how hard it is to take that next step. People are not always one thing, and there is a wonderful complexity to Bradley that is present in Adam, and I knew Bradley could bring that to life in his performance."
Sienna Miller as Helene, a chef and single mom, brings an understated strength to her role. Like a vampire, Jones tries to suck out all her goodness, but as Helene finds her footing his kitchen, she proves herself as more of an equal to Jones. He even begins to fall in love with her.
If you have an appetite for movies about cuisine and a chef's quest for perfection, Burnt will really please your palate.
Burnt opens Oct. 30.
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