Sunday, 15 November 2015

Burnt (4 Stars)

This is a film that's difficult to recommend. If you describe the plot to someone it sounds utterly boring. It's about the struggle of a two-star rated cook to achieve a three-star rating (the highest) in the Michelin food guide. This is a rare honour. According to the Wikipedia page, only three restaurants in England (and 14 in the USA) currently have the top rating.

Bradley Cooper stars as Adam Jones, a two-star cook recovering from drug addiction, who has moved from Paris to London to begin a new life. Nobody trusts him in London because he's well known as a wash out, although many people have respect for him as a great cook. Adam persuades his friend Tony (Daniel Brühl), a hotel owner, to let him take over as head chef in his restaurant. Adam is a tough person to work for. He creates new recipes, the cooks in his kitchen make them for him, and he runs round tasting the results, throwing plates of food at the wall if he doesn't consider them to be perfect. Yes, perfect. Anything less than perfect isn't good enough for him.

If that sounds like "Whiplash", yes, it is. Adam Jones is like a man directing an orchestra in the kitchen. He's brilliant but obsessive. But I walked out of the cinema today comparing it with "Rocky" (the first film) more than anything else. They're both films about someone who was at the top of his game, then fell flat on his face because of his own faults and had to work hard to get back to the top.

The film is impressive, but I find it extremely hard to relate to. In the case of "Rocky" I understand what boxing is about, but cooking? Is it really such a cut-throat industry where competitors either respect or despise one another? It's like another world. Unless someone appears on a daytime TV show, nobody could name the top cook in his town, but the characters in this film all know the names of rival cooks throughout Europe. I've never eaten in a restaurant remotely like the ones shown.

My home town, Birmingham, doesn't have any three-star restaurants or even two-star restaurants, but it does have five one-star restaurants. I checked out one of the restaurants -- online, of course -- and discovered that it only has three dishes on the menu. That seems to be typical for the top restaurants. Rather than having a large menu that remains the same for months, maybe years, they only offer a few dishes, changing the menu every time the head chef has a new creation he wants to show off.

Interestingly, the film has a scene where Adam Jones is eating in Burger King. The junior cook accompanying him refuses to eat anything out of principle because it's junk food, but Adam defends it. He says it's the food of the working class, for the people who don't want to pay 50 times as much in a top restaurant. He praises Burger King for making consistently good food, but he says that consistency is also Burger King's greatest weakness. Discerning diners don't want to eat the same food all the time, they want new food every time they eat.

I'm working class. It's Burger King for me. But I don't want ice in my Coke.

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