Bradley Cooper, break­ing a few dishes to make ‘Burnt’ re­al­is­tic

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY STEPHANIE MERRY

Re­mem­ber all that ag­gres­sion Bradley Cooper had to keep bot­tled up play­ing tightly wound Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in “Amer­i­can Sniper”? It’s fi­nally com­ing out.

In the new movie “Burnt,” Cooper is master chef Adam Jones, a wor­thy con­tender for the ti­tle of World’s Scari­est Boss. Af­ter the sub­par open­ing of his fancy new restau­rant (also named Adam Jones, of course), the top toque throws a tem­per tantrum, hurl­ing many plates and even more ex­ple­tives be­fore his pièce de ré­sis­tance: grab­bing an em­ployee by the col­lar, scream­ing in her face and shov­ing her.

It’s a melt­down to re­mem­ber. Alarm­ingly, it’s also pretty re­al­is­tic.

“With all the re­search we did, we can re­gale you with hun­dreds of sto­ries that are much worse than in the movie,” Cooper said re­cently from Los An­ge­les. “This is ab­so­lutely what hap­pens.”

Adds di­rec­tor John Wells: “You’ll find a lot of chefs tell you it’s not re­ally like that any­more,” ex­cept then Wells would talk to some­one who would say, “I got hit in the face with a steak that just came off the grill — that’s what this burn is over my eye.”

When it comes to depict­ing the in­ner work­ings of an ac­claimed kitchen, “Burnt,” which opens Thurs­day, is noth­ing if not true

to life. That makes it an anom­aly among cook­ing movies, which tend to ro­man­ti­cize the craft, pulling heart­strings and in­cit­ing hunger pangs in equal mea­sure. You’ll see it in “Chef,” “No Reser­va­tions,” “The Hun­dred-Foot Jour­ney” or “Choco­lat.” The cam­era might zoom in on a pair of hands care­fully tend­ing to a siz­zling filet or the ched­dar ooz­ing out of a gen­er­ously but­tered grilled cheese. The act of mak­ing an omelet ap­proaches a spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Burnt” is rougher around the edges. The food still looks tasty, but the process of get­ting it to the ta­ble isn’t pretty. Sweat and rage may not be on Adam Jones’s menu, but they go into nearly ev­ery dish.

Even be­fore writ­ing the script, Steven Knight be­gan com­pil­ing in­sights from Mar­cus Ware­ing, the celebrity chef be­hind Lon­don’s Mar­cus, a restau­rant with two Miche­lin stars — the restau­rant equiv­a­lent of win­ning a Golden Globe. Ac­cord­ing to Ware­ing, Knight wanted to hear sto­ries from the trenches. So the chef obliged, giv­ing the writer some sense of “what makes [chefs] tick — what makes us get out of bed and do a 16-hour day, six days a week, day af­ter day, week af­ter week, plate af­ter plate af­ter plate.”

For Cooper’s char­ac­ter, it’s the de­sire to whip up “culi­nary or­gasms.” Once the en­fant ter­ri­ble of the Paris din­ing scene, Jones van­ished one day with­out a word. As “Burnt” opens, it’s years later and he has just resur­faced, sans his drug and al­co­hol habit, to open a Lon­don restau­rant with the ex­press pur­pose of get­ting his third Miche­lin star. In other words: an Os­car (an award, in­ci­den­tally, for which Cooper has been nom­i­nated on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions but has never won).

The script in­trigued Cooper and Wells for a few rea­sons. For one, it ex­plored the al­most patho­log­i­cal per­fec­tion­ism as­so­ci­ated with the trade.

“Then, I was fas­ci­nated by the idea of try­ing to re-cre­ate the kitchen en­vi­ron­ment,” Wells said. “I had worked in a lot of kitchens, Bradley worked in a lot of kitchens, and I think both of us felt that the only film that had fully done it jus­tice over the years was ‘Rata­touille.’ ”

But do­ing it jus­tice was a tall or­der. For starters, they needed a set that was an ac­tual, func­tion­ing kitchen. And once Wells had a kitchen, he needed cooks. So all of the ac­tors got crash cour­ses in the craft. Cooper, who said he uses cook­ing as ther­apy, nev­er­the­less needed to up his game, so he shad­owed Gor­don Ram­say, among oth­ers. That came in handy.

“There are no cook­ing dou­bles, like, ‘Okay, let’s have the other peo­ple come in and cook, and we’ll film that,’ ” said the 1997 Ge­orge­town Univer­sity grad­u­ate. “Ev­ery day was a po­ten­tial pro­duc­e­rial night­mare.”

When the au­di­ence sees a red­faced Si­enna Miller hunched over an open flame, she is in fact cook­ing fish on a 120-de­gree stove. And all of the ex­tras in the kitchen scenes were real chefs from Miche­lin-rated res­tau­rants. Cuts and burns were rou­tine.

“That was real sweat,” Cooper said. “My eyes re­ally were blood­shot.”

Ac­cord­ing to Wells, the cast pro­duced as many as 120 Miche­lin-cal­iber meals a day. (The great ben­e­fit, of course, was that the cast and crew were very well fed.)

Ware­ing and his em­ploy­ees, mean­while, were con­sulted dur­ing film­ing to en­sure ac­cu­racy. He also de­signed the menus that the ac­tors would be re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing, and his team was in­volved in every­thing from kitchen and ta­ble de­sign to what fridges, chop­ping boards, knives and pans would be used.

“It was just like open­ing a brand-new restau­rant,” he said.

Ware­ing was es­pe­cially im­pressed by the ac­tors’ abil­ity to be­come some­thing they aren’t. Dur­ing one of the fi­nal scenes, for ex­am­ple, Cooper’s char­ac­ter has to trans­form a plate of pureed beets and lamb into an edi­ble work of art, which is harder than it sounds. The chef showed the ac­tor how and then let Cooper have a go. To Ware­ing’s cha­grin, the ac­tor pulled it off on the first try. Cooper looked at Ware­ing and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“And I said, ‘Noth­ing. It’s f---ing per­fect,’ ” Ware­ing re­called. “I said, ‘You’re piss­ing me off now be­cause it took me years to get to this stage.’ ”

Just as Ware­ing taught the cast and crew a few things, he took some lessons from the set back to his restau­rant.

“John never raised his voice once when he was di­rect­ing,” the chef said. “He got what he wanted, and he never raised his voice.”

Ware­ing said he now speaks to his brigade a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. And how’s that work­ing out?

“It works just as well,” he said.


Bradley Cooper says play­ing a tyran­ni­cal chef in “Burnt” was no cake­walk. “That was real sweat,” he says. “My eyes re­ally were blood­shot.”

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