When naming the world's highest-pressure occupations, one traditionally thinks of heads of state, air traffic controllers and emergency room surgeons. Kindergarten teachers would probably put their hands up, too, but one area that’s generally overlooked — mostly because it’s hidden away by design — is the kitchen of any Michelin-rated restaurant.
These temples of fine dining and avant garde cuisine play host to the most talented chefs in the world, and to cook alongside them is — as one character in Burnt explains — like working with Yoda.
But the privilege comes at a cost. Their genius seems almost inextricably bonded with arrogance and rage, an exacting expectation of excellence that permits no error or half-measures. Egos clash, tempers flare, reputations are made and ruined and all the while the wealthiest one percent sits just metres away, oblivious and impatient. To see Burnt is to finally peer behind this temple’s curtain and experience just a semblance of the chaotic magic within.
The film stars Bradley Cooper as Adam Jones, a disgraced chef in search of his third Michelin star — the highest rating a restaurant (and hence its chef) can secure. Penniless and jobless, Jones is at rock bottom; a recovering addict of every imaginable vice and shucking one million oysters as part of a gruelling personal penance. Redemption beckons, however, so he procures a London restaurant from his friend Tony (Daniel Brühl) and attempts to assemble a team of the most talented cooks and sauciers available. The stakes may seem low, but placing an addict in a high-pressure environment haunted by both the demons of his past and the debilitating fear of future failure creates levels of Sicario-like tension throughout this film that rarely drop below ten. To make a non-wanky movie about a chef is an achievement in itself, but to also make it suspenseful is definitely worthy of praise.
For the food lovers, Burnt features an absolute bucket load of cooking, mixing, sharpening, experimentation and close-up food porn — perhaps more than any other recent offering along similar lines (including, for example, Jon Favreau’s Chef). It’s also guilty of more montages than Teen Wolf 2, but — in its defence — they’re not making two minute noodles here. To watch beef brisket cooked sous-vide would be like watching water boil, in that — well — that’s exactly what it is, so the editing choices are forgivable. The dialogue is mostly snappy and the kitchen scenes are fast-paced and volatile, making the delicate creations they produce seem all the more inconceivable. In all, Burnt is something of a culinary action movie, and while several of its characters are admittedly lacking in narrative depth (most notably Sienna Miller as Jones’s gifted saucier), it’s still a cracking film and a fascinating glimpse into a rarely-seen world.