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Yes, Chef! (But I Disagree)

It has been reported, through many outlets, that at the June 2023 Wall Street Journal Global Food Forum held in Chicago, Chef Rick Bayless said, “The Bear has pushed us back another 20 years.” He said, “it’s great TV…but I’m looking out for the future of our 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.” Chef Bayless is also quoted as saying, “I have worked in restaurants all my life and never worked in one that was dirty or where people yelled at, demeaned, or abused people.” He asks, “But just because ugliness exists do we have to glorify it? Is there nowhere to talk about positive stuff?”

I understand this is just the opinion of this individual. This is in no way an indictment of Rick Bayless, a restauranteur who by all accounts takes incredible care of his people; I simply and respectfully disagree with his point of view on this one topic. I believe The Bear, especially Season 2, is quite frankly a beautifully written and performed “love letter” to the industry, the people that work in the industry, and the city of Chicago. The ugliness is not glorified, nor are the negatives exaggerated. They are real, “right sized,” and they are part of our industry. Every industry has its warts. The NFL has concussions, finance has insider trading, politics is rife with corruption and collusion, and on and on. There have been countless pop culture treatments of these and other industries, faults-and-all, and they seem to carry on just fine.

All of that being said, and yes, we as an industry have plenty to work on, The Bear also deftly explores - while putting front and center - topics such as personal growth, professional development, mentorship, leadership, the capacity to truly love and respect the people you work with, trust, hope, accomplishment, persistence, determination, success, pride, the value of team over the individual, and the joy of providing Unreasonable Hospitality. If you can’t see the arc over the entirety of Season 2 and watch with jaw-dropped awe the incredible story of “How it started…how it’s going” as an homage to the industry and our people, you have clearly been watching with your eyes closed or deliberate ignorance.

In our industry, the foibles of humanity are intertwined with intense emotion and debilitating mental and physical pain. The characters in The Bear are quite real. I’ve worked with each and every one of them throughout my career. I’ve seen people wash out of jobs because of drug and alcohol abuse. I’ve seen people flourish when their true talents are recognized and encouraged. I’ve seen people verbally attack each other in the most personal and vicious ways, only to “hug it out” moments later after recognizing they are fighting passionately for the same outcome. I’ve seen the tipping point, the “five minutes” where the line either completely collapses or comes together to successfully dig out. Hell, I’ve been the expediter on that line more times than I can count. I’ve seen teams celebrate with and for each other following the most challenging, satisfying, and triumphant services.

The Bear is absolutely the forum to “talk about positive stuff.” Our industry is a noble profession based on service and relationships . Service and relationships both among ourselves, and for our customers, when it’s done right. The future of our industry is in the hands of our current leaders and how they develop and mentor those following them. The future of our industry is and continues to be about people taking care of people and community. We are not condemned to failure, and The Bear has not set us back 20 years. We do need to heed our history, however, and commit to building upon our strengths and providing remedy for our shortfalls. Every second counts. Savor your time. Yes, Chef!

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