The first season of The Bear has won six Emmy Awards at the 75th Emmy Awards, including Best Comedy Series and Best Writing for a Comedy Series. Creator Christopher Storer worked with his sister Courtney Storer, a culinary producer, to make sure the food and kitchen drama was as realistic and high stakes as possible across both series. In this interview, Courtney reveals how the team created that unrelenting pace, and how she worked with the actors to perfect their knife skills. FX has confirmed The Bear will return for a third season in 2024.

For anyone who’s worked in hospitality, The Bear is at times nightmarishly close to home. There’s a shouty, sweary chef; anxiety-inducing pressure; and an unrelenting pace that seems to bring out the absolute worst in people. It all plays out in an old-school Chicago sandwich shop called The Beef, where the flagship dish is a classic Chicago Italian beef sandwich.

The Bear stars a very excellent Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, who inherits the eatery after his brother Michael unexpectedly dies, leaving him to deal with The Beef’s debt and chaos.

Never miss a moment. Make sure you're subscribed to our newsletter today.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Carmen is a fine-dining chef who’s worked in perfection-focused Michelin-star restaurants. He’s also one of the industry’s walking wounded, whose celebrated career was forged under immense pressure and abuse. He can glimpse a future where the kitchen is thriving and people are getting along, but doesn’t know how to get it there. Instead, The Beef is a hectic world of chaos, stress and toxic manipulation.

The Bear has been an unexpected success for FX Production, with its second season slated for 2023. And a lot of that success comes down to Courtney Storer.

Storer has had a very successful career as a chef, including a role as culinary director for LA Italian hotspot Jon & Vinny’s. For The Bear she was culinary producer, working with its creator Chris Storer (her brother) to make sure it perfectly captured kitchen culture.

“I had a lot of input on a micro and macro level – on the day-to-day, as well as what the kitchen looked like, what the food would be like [and] what kind of dishes we’d show on the line,” Storer tells Broadsheet.

The show’s other stars include Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Richie), Ayo Edebiri (Sydney), Liza Colón-Zayas (Tina), none of whom have any real experience in commercial kitchens. The only food person on the cast is Canadian celebrity chef Matty Matheson (who is also a producer on the show), but his character doesn’t even cook.

“The actors were really good at observation,” Storer says. “I worked with Ayo a lot, got her to watch how I moved in the kitchen, carrying things without having people helping me. But we didn’t want to make a show where everything looked perfect. You can see everyone moving and grooving, their skills complementing each other. Sydney is a good leader, Carmy’s knife skills are better – everyone plays to their strengths.”

Training the actors to be convincing in the kitchen was one element of Storer’s job. The other was food.

Storer and her team were behind the mesmerising shots of food being made: huge cuts of chuck seared off in pans before roasting in the oven; glossy, golden chicken piccata basted with capers, garlic and lemon-laced butter; Tina’s perfect mashed potatoes; and The Beef’s quintessential Chicago Italian beef sandwiches.

“The sandwich is so popular in Chicago. It came about [in the 1930s] when Italian-American families were using cheap cuts of meat and stretching ingredients to feed a lot of people,” she tells us.

To make the sandwich you take chuck steak and roast it to medium rare with herbs, spices and beef stock. After it’s cooled, you slice it and heat it with au jus (a light gravy), before serving it on an amoroso roll with giardiniera (a medley of pickled vegetables marinated in olive oil).

When Carmy has his first bite of the sandwich on the show, his reaction is authentic. “Everything was hot and made fresh. We wanted the actors to taste things and for it to feel real,” says Storer.

Many aspects of the The Bear are biographical. Like chef Sydney, Storer did a stint as a UPS delivery driver. Like Carmy, she’s worked in top kitchens under crippling pressure. And she’s suffered from mental health issues, which most recently led to her decision to leave a seven-year run at Jon & Vinny’s in the middle of the pandemic.

“I was running at a crazy pace. Jon & Vinny’s was very successful. I worked with amazing people, but I needed to slow down and take a break, and give myself the creative space to calm down from the anxiety and depression I was experiencing.”

Storer wanted to give the audience a view of how tough the industry can be, but she also believes it doesn’t have to be that way.

“There are restaurants where the energetic tension isn’t aggressive. We wanted to show how a kitchen can go either way – it can have a really good rhythm, or it can go off the rails. And the other side is this family you create within the restaurant, people sitting at a table together and eating the family meal. In The Bear, you see tension, but they’re also friendly, and when things get hard, they show up for each other.”

The show also addresses an issue plaguing working-class neighbourhoods in cities all around the world: what happens when businesses like The Beef get squeezed by gentrification?

In one episode, Richie laments the changes in their local neighbourhood after the bar on the corner shuts down. “I never went in, but I liked knowing it was there,” he says.

“Richie is a good example of someone where the business is all he knows. He’s looking around, caught in a time warp, wondering where he fits in,” says Storer.

But it’s not just the decades-old mum-and-pop shops that struggle with rising rents and changing demographics, it’s chefs like Storer who might be looking to open their own businesses. “I have to ask myself: could I open a business and fund it myself? It’s almost impossible. It’s hard now to compete with big corporations that have grown and have so much power.”

The Bear examines mental health and dysfunction in families, all against the backdrop of a restaurant where the high-pressure environment amplifies every high and low. That environment has taught Storer a lot about herself.

“As a queer woman in kitchens, I struggled with a lot of preconceived notions, people underestimating me, not taking me seriously. I felt if I was too friendly, people would think I was flirting, and if I was too aggressive, people would call me the ‘B’ word. It’s really important for me to be honest about who I am, and I try to be someone people can look to for inspiration,” she says. “With the show we shed light on a world I know very well, and I’m so glad people are digging it.”

Season one and two of The Bear is streaming on Disney+. Filming for the third season begins in February 2024.

@courtney__storer

This article was updated to reflect the Emmy Award wins on January 16, 2024.