Four-time Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper is about to hit the big screen playing a chef who, despite a dangerous lifestyle that left him out of control, drags himself back from the brink to pursue three Michelin stars. Amanda Afiya from industry magazine The Caterer speaks to Marcus Wareing about his input into the script of Burnt, and on having to get hot-headed in his role as consultant chef.
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Tell me about the back story to Burnt – you’ve actually had quite a long association with this film.
About seven years ago, when I was still at Pétrus, I had a phone call from a scriptwriter called Steven Knight [who wrote the film Locke and the BBC Two series Peaky Blinders], saying he was writing the storyline for a movie about a chef. He came to meet me and we just hit it off. He asked interesting questions about the dark side of the industry. He was interested in my link with five-star hotels, restaurants that I had worked at during my training, working with Gordon [Ramsay], all the restaurants that I had grown up with, Marco Pierre White and the many other stories – pre-social media, you know… conversations over a glass of wine or dinner. He found them incredibly fascinating.
So what happened next?
Steven would disappear for months and then come back. Eventually, I was sent a proper script. I read it and found it really interesting but slightly shallow, so we met up some more. We would talk and talk: “tell me about this”, “what happened here?”, “why do you do this?”, “why do we do what we do?” So it wasn’t just stories, it was about how I got to where I am, why I worked all those hours, why I jumped ship from a five-star hotel to go and work in the three-Michelin-starred kitchen of Le Gavroche, why I worked with Gordon Ramsay under those circumstances. And what emerged was a persona – a chef.
Then one day I got a call from Steven’s PA, saying Steven would like to come to the chef’s table and bring the person he is considering for the role. By then I was at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, and it happened to be Keanu Reeves. So Steven brought Keanu and for the first time you see a real Hollywood actor sitting in front of you, asking about your world, watching the kitchen. And that was it. Never saw or heard from them again, and I thought nothing of it.
But it took a new turn?
Yes, five years in at the Berkeley and I got another phone call about an updated script of Steven’s. It had developed so much more, but again he disappeared and it was only a year-and-a-half ago that Katie [Marshall, Wareing’s PR] said: “Right, Marcus, this opportunity has come up for you to consult on a movie.” She had no idea that I already had a connection with this crazy movie.
I arrived at the restaurant and she said: “Come on, you’re late.” I walked into the room and there’s 12 people around the table. It was pretty intimidating and I didn’t realise it was the director, the producers and the art director.
My first question was “Who’s making the movie?” A man said, “Harvey Weinstein is making it, he’s paying for it, it’s going to happen. I’m John Wells, the director.” And who is playing the chef? “It’s Bradley Cooper.” At that point, I was like: “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The Weinstein Company and John Wells [who directed August: Osage County and ER] – these are people who have no idea how kitchens work, how to design them, how to make them smell right, what equipment to buy. But John explained exactly what he was looking for and what he wanted. I happened to have Chantelle [Nicholson, group operations director for Marcus Wareing Restaurants] sat next to me and I just rolled off what they would need if they were going to create a kitchen. I think that’s what sold it – what we could deliver.
How much of your time did it require?
Was there a financial decision to do it?
No, I did it because I felt very close to the script. As a restaurateur, consulting is fantastic – and it’s bloody good money – but when you’re running your own restaurants the return is far greater than any consultancy that I’ve come across. Being part of MasterChef and being part of this movie was about being part of another world of excellence.
Have you seen the film? Are you pleased?
Yes. You’ll watch the movie and you’ll recognise a lot. You’ll never be able to pinpoint it to anyone, because it’s not just me talking about food, they talked to a lot of other people too.
Is it an authentic representation of our industry?
Nope. In some ways it’s not about our industry, it’s all about one man. You won’t like what you see, necessarily. You’ll see frustrations and you’ll see glimpses of the industry.
So what message do you hope this film sends to people?
As a young chef, I switched on the TV and I was inspired by people on a couple of TV shows – Take Six Cooks and MasterChef with Loyd Grossman. Albert Roux, Michel Roux, Nico Ladenis – they inspired me to become a chef and to go to London. What I want from this movie is that, even though it is Bradley Cooper – who is a cool guy, by the way – there are a lot of young people out there who need to be inspired by an industry and I think this man and this movie can inspire a lot of young people.
Set the scene of the movie for us.
Adam Jones is a man who has gone to the top. When you get to the top it becomes very lonely and segregated and you rely on your family to support you. When you are segregated with no family, you become Adam Jones – and you just self-destruct and go to drink and drugs.
The movie starts with him shucking oysters. He had left London, he had left Paris, he was almost at the pinnacle of his career, and he went away to shuck oysters to go and find himself. Through shucking those oysters, he was getting himself together mentally to take on winning three Michelin stars. He came back to London to take on this restaurant scene, but he had screwed a lot of people over. He then approached his old people – it would be like me approaching Gordon for help. There’s a hotel owner who owns a restaurant that he had screwed over, and then the story progresses.
Is he British or American?
So why does he choose London?
That was where he was trained, and then he went to Paris. And everywhere he has been, he has screwed over a lot of people. In the movie, he finds his soulmate and he also finds himself. Here’s a chef that is almost Marco-like, in a way, and like Anthony Bourdain. He beats himself up.
You can’t tell me if he gets his three stars?
It’s actually not about that. It’s more about him.
Tell me more about your role.
So from our point of view, we had to do kitchen design, menu design, food design, food training, and teaching the core actors to cook and act like chefs. But the real skill is how top actors like Bradley and Sienna Miller can come into your world and watch you, talk to you, listen to you and then be you. They can cook, they can sauté, they can stand like a chef, they can talk like a chef, they can act like a chef. They wear whites like a chef and it blows your mind. Sienna Miller, for me, did more cooking than most. She’s gung ho – talk about a get up and go attitude: “Teach me to fillet, teach me to cook. How do I hold my spoon? What do I say?
In Silver Linings Playbook Bradley Cooper plays a bipolar sufferer, and the character in the film you have described sounds obsessive.
Yes. He has got a nemesis: this guy in London who has three Michelin stars; he’s almost El Bulli-like. He is like everyone who has a bee in their bonnet about a certain person – that headache that annoys you and frustrates you because maybe he or she has got more than you, or because he or she is more successful.
But, of course, this chef has three Michelin stars and his kitchen is very cold and scientific, and Jones doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t understand why you would need to look at food under a microscope. It drives him crazy.
There are so many cookery programmes on television, including MasterChef: The Professionals, and yet everyone is crying out saying there is a skills crisis. Do you really think this film could help fill the skills gap?
Yes, I do. This not a movie for the industry, though. This is a movie for theatre-goers and people who like to watch films at home, so you are reaching out to a whole new group of people. This is for everyone to watch, so there are some storylines there because it is Hollywood. It is purely entertainment, but it will entice people to come and look at the industry and think: “Yeah, that’s pretty rock and roll.”
I think parents are asking themselves if they want their children to come into the industry because of how bloody hard it is. How do you win over mum and dad?
Well, I have got a message for parents, young people and the industry, which is that the pay is shit at the bottom and there are long hours everywhere. If you want to work nine to five or even seven-hour days, then yes, you can go and find a job. But this industry isn’t on its knees, and it is certainly isn’t harder than any other. It is all about the ability to get out of bed in the morning and do something with your life.
I have three children, aged 13, 10 and eight, and if my kids want to come into my industry – tattoos, piercings, drugs, drink, rock and roll, sex, the whole nine yards – then that is out there anyway. Mums and dads need to get a grip and stop pussy-footing around what is one of the most exciting industries in the world and not worry about all these details.
What did they ask you to do on set – did they want you to survey the scene and say “That guy is not holding his knife properly”?
I had to set the scenes. The script would say that the service has gone wrong, the manager has done XYZ, and the scene is a kitchen bollocking. So my job as the consultant was to create the scene of it being 8.30pm on a Friday night with a full restaurant where Adam Jones is kicking off. That is hard work when it’s 7.30am, there’s no make-up artist to make everyone look dirty, a stone-cold studio, no cooked food, nothing boiling, nothing dirty – just a load of actors and a camera man.
So what did you do?
I had to go in there like a chef de cuisine – pissed off – and create this scene. I probably ruffled some feathers because they couldn’t understand the importance of eight, nine, 10 chefs looking like they had just done 14 hours and they were just about to push through the next five. How do I get them to look that way? How do I get them to all feel they have been in work all day long? Bearing in mind that only the key people were actors – the rest were stand-ins or young chefs. It was bloody hard work.
So did you actually play it out yourself?
Yes, and it was quite weird. I had to get the stove on and people asked me: “Why do you have to do that? It makes the set hot, Marcus.” I don’t give a shit. Get the stoves hot, get the stoves dirty, get the food cooking, get the pans boiling. There was a point where I went back behind the scenes and I looked at the camera and thought, “Bloody hell, everyone has got perfect white jackets. The kitchen looks a shithole, but everyone is clean.” So we had to crumple their jackets and sweat them up. Interestingly, as the film went on, they got more and more demoralised by me because they got tired, pissed off and bored. But as the filming went on, they started to look like chefs.
There was one scene where Bradley had to destroy the kitchen – give the whole kitchen the bollocking of all bollockings – and he said “Can you show me how you would do it?” I had to put my Marcus/Gordon head on and I went in and I absolutely annihilated the whole kitchen. I had to put myself back into the early Pétrus days when I was a lowly soldier on my own, trying to find who I was, in order to make this actor feel inspired.
I thought, “How am I going to do this in this cold environment?” But by this time the whole place had heated up and the gas was blasting. We had this beautiful stove and four or five ‘chefs’, and I said, “Right guys, we are now in service.” I got them all cooking and I went for it. And I picked holes in everything they were doing and I tore shreds out of them all. I went round the whole stove twice, with Bradley standing next to me. I have kicked many kitchens to pieces in my life, but I went into a place I haven’t been for a long, long time. I became the character I used to be. It was weird – it was reliving my youth. But I wanted to do it.
I then just left it with him. He said, “That’s it, thank you” and I went to stand behind the director. I watched this scene and it was mind-blowing – it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I was just envious. I just wanted to be in that room, with this chef. It was like being back with Gordon. It was quite surreal. It was at that point that I discovered this incredible respect for how an actor can take your world and just replicate it. Try and work that one out in your head – you are watching a Hollywood superstar go through this thing that you have just done and you have been doing all of your life and he just plays it out. It was like going back in time.
It’s pretty raw, isn’t it? It opened deep wounds.
It’s true. I opened old wounds to become a character. I think that is what actors do. Bradley had just finished American Sniper, so he was all pumped in the kitchen. It was military. And his voice, Jesus Christ!
It’s been very interesting watching you on MasterChef over the years, seeing you come in as a guest chef or being involved in a dinner, and latterly you have become more nurturing. With each episode you seem to have softened.
But my old character is evil and that is why I feel so close to this movie, because it took me to a place I haven’t been for a long time. Do I miss that character? Of course I do. I like that character a lot. But I have a wife and three children now and that is why I can’t be that character any more. Because that character for me was probably the best character of all, because I believe that is what I was. As you get older, unfortunately, you can’t be that person any more. The world and the industry won’t allow you to be.
Did the chefs look scared when you gave them that bollocking during filming?
Yes. I hammered them. I made a point of saying we are now going to do this and this is how it is in a real kitchen, whether I was prodding them, pushing them, whether I grabbed them, whether I was nose to nose with them. I could find fault with everything. Whether it was lumpy pomme purée or a dirty stove. Your cloth’s not right, your board’s not clean. Whether it would just be looking at me the wrong way, or the body language being wrong. I am not happy, we are in service, you should show positivity. Whatever it may be – I will find it in you and I will pull you to pieces because I am the head chef and it is my kitchen. I will do to you whatever I like and if you don’t like it, then get out of my life and out of my kitchen.
That ability to identify weaknesses in people – does that go back to your boxing career?
Yes – find a fault to beat them. I think the hardest thing for me was being a team player. Being an individual was why boxing was always my sport. I have just moved house and the key point of my house is my boxing bags and my gym. I run my company very differently to others in my position and I inspire people to manage themselves and to manage their managers. I watch my company and the business develop and grow without me. I’m 45 and I have new goals in the next five, 10 and 15 years. To be able to enjoy my career without being tied to a cooker thinking, “Do I really want to win three Michelin stars?”
Is there still a tiny bit of you that thinks, what if?
I don’t, actually.
But there could be a new era at the Berkeley now you have head chef Mark Froydenlund who can inject something more into it?
What would it do for me, though?
It would tick something, I guess?
The box has been ticked – two boxes have been ticked, but the last box has a cross. And because that cross is in there, in my head, it makes me come to terms with it. Could I have achieved three stars? I think yes, I could have. But I am too business – money – and family-driven to look at food under a microscope and to be part of a world that maybe I am not good enough for.
I think the film will inspire a generation. If there is something new that young people could latch onto; to see an idol, like I saw many idols in my youth. Do I think that Bradley Cooper can energise a generation of people through this movie? I would say the answer is, without a doubt, yes. I think that the person isn’t what mum and dad would like to see, but I think there is a level of coolness about him. I think he shows a person who can come back from something and fight, and I think we need role models – good, bad and ugly – and I think that he, for me, and his character, could regenerate things. We’ve all followed chefs. Now let’s see what an actor can do with our industry.
Burnt will be in cinemas from 6 November.
Original article appeared in The Caterer magazine here.
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