The second season of The Bear recently debuted on Hulu, earning high marks from critics and drawing praise for its meticulous attention to detail. Takes on the show from within the food industry have been more varied, with some chefs enjoying it and others arguing that aspects of it are implausible. But one high-profile food personality has come out swinging against the show: James Beard Award-winning chef and television host Rick Bayless.
As Eater reports, Bayless was highly critical of the show in comments made during the Wall Street Journal‘s Global Food Forum. “The Bear has pushed us back another 20 years,” Bayless said. “If you’re a mother of a teenage boy that’s watching that show and he goes, ‘Mom, I want to work in restaurants,’ would you let him? No you wouldn’t.”
Eater followed up with Bayless, who also stated that he felt that The Bear‘s first season “did permanent damage” to the restaurant industry. “Trying to convince people that our profession is not only a viable but positive choice is hard to do when pop culture portrayals and new media coverage only focus on exaggerated negatives,” Bayless told Eater.
With that in mind, one can only imagine what Bayless thought of The Menu.
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In his comments to Eater, Bayless mentioned that he had “never worked in [a restaurant] that was dirty or where people yelled at, demeaned or abused people.” Which sounds great, to be honest — but that’s far from the experience than many restaurant workers have had. Last year at Bon Appétit, Genevieve Yam wrote about what, in her experience, The Bear got right about working in food. The number of scandals in the food world about abusive workplaces and troubling power dynamics is, shall we say, far from small — and ignoring that in a nominally realistic show could be a bigger oversight than most.
That said, there’s also a fundamental difference between what Bayless would like to see — an encouraging, inviting portrait of the best aspects of restaurant culture — and what makes for compelling drama. It seems likely that the gulf that exists between the two, and what viewers expect from each, may not be bridgeable. But if Bayless wants to make the restaurant world a better place, as the owner of several establishments, he’s in a better position than most to influence the workplace culture there.
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