On ‘The Bear,’ Interning at a Fine-Dining Restaurant Is Rosier Than Reality

In its second season, the hit FX show “The Bear” ventures into the world of fine dining. As the scrappy Chicago restaurant crashes toward a reopening, two of the employees leave to apprentice at top restaurants in Chicago and Copenhagen.

They wake up early and stay late. One polishes forks for hours, the other practices the same pastry techniques over and over and over. They see excellence, and they learn. In fine dining, this sort of apprenticeship is called a “stage,” which rhymes with “mirage.”

But for a show often praised for its realistic portrayal of restaurant life, “The Bear” depicts haute cuisine staging as much more personal and touchy-feely than some chefs remembered.

After a yearslong industrywide upheaval over work culture and questions about the long-term sustainability of the fine-dining model, some chefs said the show could give diners a frustratingly sunny impression of the realities of working in fine-dining restaurants.

“It’s kind of a soap opera,” said Kwang Uh, the chef of Baroo, which is preparing to reopen in Los Angeles. “It’s not a documentary.”

Mr. Uh, who runs Baroo with his wife, Mina Park, staged for three months at Noma, in Copenhagen, which recently said it would close its doors to diners.

In “The Bear,” Marcus, the pastry chef played by Lionel Boyce, also travels to Copenhagen to stage at a restaurant that closely resembles Noma, though it’s never named in the show.

In his very first task, Marcus positions ingredients with long tweezers, focusing in the quiet kitchen on preparing a full dish.

Mr. Uh said that rarely happens, even with seasoned chefs. When he arrived at Noma, he had eight years of experience and had even managed restaurants, including Nobu Bahamas. But in the beginning, he picked herbs at Noma and sawed bones for marrow by hand.

“Maybe he’s more of a V.I.P.?” Mr. Uh said of Marcus.

Eric Rivera, a chef based in Raleigh, N.C., who also staged at Noma said: “Ninety-five percent of your day is cleaning stuff, picking stuff. You’re not plating dishes.”

Two of the chefs on “The Bear” also go to culinary school, where they learn knife skills.Credit…Hulu

Richie, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, stages at a top restaurant in Chicago. (It is also not named, but the scenes were filmed at Ever, which has two Michelin stars.)

In one scene, he peels mushrooms with the executive chef, Chef Terry, played by Olivia Colman. As they work side by side, she quickly reveals an extraordinarily personal detail: memories from her dead father’s notebooks.

“That would probably never, ever happen,” said Stephen Chavez, who teaches at the Institute of Culinary Education’s Los Angeles campus.

Mr. Rivera also found such a scenario far-fetched. “It’s obscenely rare that stages will even be able to meet the chef,” he said.

He also doubted that an employee at a scrappy restaurant in Chicago could afford to go live in Copenhagen and work at the restaurant, which did not pay its interns until recently.

“That’s what that show does — they paint this rosy picture of even how it is,” Mr. Rivera said. He added, “This is like, puppies and rainbows.”

And “The Bear” addresses the changing culture of kitchens, though neither portrayal is necessarily accurate.

In Copenhagen, the chef training Marcus, played by Will Poulter, does not raise his voice as he corrects Marcus’s technique. “No, again, Chef,” he says. “No, worse. Again, Chef.” Firm, but even.

Marcus has a wonderful time, but unpaid restaurant interns at some of Copenhagen’s top restaurants reportedly faced abuse and dangerous working conditions for years.

Still, many chefs said, the show gets a lot right.

Both chefs start early — Marcus arrives at 4:50 a.m. — and both head home after dark.

At Noma, stages often work 15 hours, said David Zilber, who is the former director of the Fermentation Lab. Mr. Rivera said he regularly started at 8:30 a.m. and left at 2 a.m.

Richie, right, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, gets into the excellence of Ever.Credit…Chuck Hoades/FX

And at both stages, they see the cultish commitment to excellence at top restaurants.

In Chicago, for instance, Richie shines forks for a full shift. He’s furious, swearing and throwing the cutlery until his mentor sets him straight.

“Do you think this is below you, or something?” he asks Richie, before launching into a monologue. Shining forks is about respect, about standards. “Every day here is the freaking Super Bowl.”

That part is accurate, too, said Amy Cordell, the director of hospitality for the Ever Restaurant Group. Cleaning silverware is not grunt work, she said. It’s an important detail, just like all the other important details.

“There’s no one job that is more or less important than another,” she said. “Finding the perfect cook doesn’t come from them showcasing their knife skills. It comes from how they sweep the floor.”

Even with the long hours, the precarity and the low pay, many cooks still agree that stages are essential learning experiences.

Hannah Barton, a manager at Herons in North Carolina, staged at Ever for just two days.

It has changed the way she does seating, and even the way she hires new staff members, she said.

“It seemed like everyone in that building had also drunk the Kool-Aid,” she said. “I wish that all of my servers could have that exact same mentality.”

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