Burnt (and five chefs who deserve their own movie)
Bradley Cooper's star has been very much in the ascendant over the last few years; having spent more than a decade as a jobbing actor in TV series such as Touching Evil and Alias, as well as supporting roles in films like Yes Man and He's Just Not That Into You, Cooper's career took a turn for the better in 2009 with the surprise success of Todd Phillips' comedy The Hangover. Since then, Cooper has steadily made the transition to Oscar-worthy leading man, picking up consecutive Academy nominations for his outstanding performances in 2012's Silver Linings Playbook and 2013's American Hustle before finally winning a golden statuette a year later for his starring role in Clint Eastwood's war drama American Sniper.
His latest film finds him in familiar territory - in 2005 he starred in the short-lived but well received comedy series Kitchen Confidential as a chef who is trying to make a comeback after hitting rock bottom - and in John Wells' new film, Burnt, he tackles a very similar subject.
Cooper plays Adam Jones, a rock star chef working in a famous Parisian restaurant stars under the tutelage of the restaurant's owner Jean-Luc. While enjoying the adulation of the press and many of his peers, Adam's hedonistic lifestyle and the pressures that come with his job soon begin to get the better of him and after his addictions to drink and recreational drugs begin to spiral out of control, he implodes in spectacular fashion, destroying his reputation and the restaurant's along with it.
After disappearing from the scene, sobering up and spending a number of years working a lowly job in a New Orleans oyster bar, Adam remerges and resolves to regain his former glory, aiming to gain his third Michelin star. Returning to London, he begins recruiting his former colleagues and working through the trail of devastation he left in his wake.
After reuniting with Tony (Daniel Bruhl), the former maitre'd at Jean-Luc's restaurant who is now working at his father's hotel in London, Adam learns that not only is his former mentor dead, but also that Tony and many others had assumed, when Adam failed to appear at Jean-Luc's funeral, that he was dead too - something that becomes a bit of a running joke throughout the film. Tony agrees to let Adam stay at the hotel and work in the kitchen under the condition that he submits to weekly drug tests. Adam agrees and sets about establishing his own restaurant, Langham's, with an ambition to be nothing less than the owner of the world's best fine dining establishment. First though he'll need to overcome a few obstacles, including his former drug dealer, his ex-girlfriend, a rival chef named Michel and, ultimately, his own demons.
Cooper and Bruhl are joined by a cast that includes Emma Thompson, Sienna Miller, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman and Henry Goodman and director John Wells does a good job here of conveying the passions and pressures of working as one of the world's top chefs. You can find the trailer for Burnt below, beneath that we've picked five real-life chefs whose life stories could easily be the subject of their own feature film...
If there is any celebrity chef who most closely resembles the fictional Adam Jones from Burnt, it's probably Marco Pierre White. Once described as the enfant terrible of the fine dining scene, White became the first British chef to receive three Michelin stars, and the second youngest in history at 33, but handed them all back in 1999, saying: “I was being judged by people who knew less than me, so what was it truly worth?” His time running Harvey's restaurant in London during the 1980s has become the stuff of legend; he routinely ejected diners if he didn't like their comments, once had sex with a customer in between courses and, when an employee complained about the heat in the kitchen, cut off their clothes with a kitchen knife. His autobiography would provide a good start for any prospective film producers, although they might want to consider changing its title, White Slave, to something a little less ill-considered...
Michael Harwood isn't a celebrity chef in the conventional sense, in that he doesn't have his own TV show or a string of Michelin-starred restaurants to his name, but he's carved out a niche for himself as a private chef to the rich and famous and has even catered for the aristocracy on many occasions, giving him a unique insight into the lives of A-listers and their sometimes bizarre eating habits. These include a Russian billionaire who insisted on having Wagyu beef served as a puree because he “didn't like to chew”, a couple who only eat baked potatoes piled high with caviar and a well-known interior designer who insisted on being provided with a diagram of how the food would be laid out on the plate, usually requiring several revisions. Harwood actually wrote a fairly steamy novel called The Manservant about a butler who witnesses a string of bizarre behaviour from his employers, but we think Harwood's real life has way more entertainment value.
In recent years, Heston Blumenthal has become one of the most well-known chefs on British television, thanks to his experimental cooking techniques, bizarre recipes and immersive dining experiences that have earned him a reputation for being the mad scientist of the culinary world. He's pioneered techniques like cooking with liquid nitrogen and is famous for dishes served at his restaurant The Fat Duck such as bacon & egg ice cream and snail porridge. He's not one for the traditionalists, but his approach has changed the face of modern cooking and that must be a story worth telling.
As the first celebrity chef on British TV, Fanny Cradock was in many ways a pioneer, rising to fame in the postwar years and endearing herself to the public with her inventive but inexpensive recipes. Behind the scenes however she was reportedly a total nightmare to work with, with Esther Rantzen once describing her as “hell on wheels”. Rumours have since emerged about drug addictions and Fanny was eventually fired by the BBC after a 20-year career, following an incident in which she humiliated a member of the public on a cooking show. There have already been several plays and a made-for-TV film about her life, Fear of Fanny, starring Julia Davis and Mark Gatiss, but Cradock was a larger-than-life character that could easily fill the big screen.
He may be in his 70s now, but Jeremiah Tower is perhaps the original rock star chef. There are so many stories about this Connecticut-born kitchen legend that it's hard to know where to start. Tower once said he only got into cooking to pay for a trip to Hawaii so he could “sort out a theory I had about Atlantis”, but thereafter he gained notoriety at Harvard for serving his fellow students a soup he called 'marijuana consommé', once flew an employee all the way to Paris just to make a point about how French chicken tasted better, and famously greeted fellow chef Mario Batali on their first meeting with the immortal opening line “how about a handjob in the back of my Mercedes?” Somebody write a script...