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What ‘The Bear’ Gets Right About Chicago

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Leave it to a Chicagoan like me to note that there are, in fact, more than 20 restaurants in the city with at least one Michelin star. But “The Bear” captures something real about the city’s dining culture — and, more broadly, what you might call the geography of ambition. In one scene in the second season, Sydney Adamu, the woman who is now chef de cuisine for the new restaurant Carmy hopes to start, is discussing the menu with him when she notices his old chef’s uniform from New York, embroidered with his initials. He sees her looking at it. “New York — lame, right?” he says. Sydney replies: “I want to hate it. Like, don’t get me wrong, I do. But it looks sick, and I bet it felt really good wearing it.” It did, Carmy acknowledges; nobody here is going to deny New York’s cultural domination. But he goes on to talk about having earned Michelin stars, saying that his brain raced right past the joy of it to dread — that it felt imperative to keep them at all costs. “New York,” here, signifies a heightened awareness of status and image, stress and precarity, ruthlessness dressed as sophistication.

And Chicago, for “The Bear,” is depicted — accurately — as a place where the goal is not necessarily to win status or acclaim so much as to create something great and original, ambitious without pretense, committed to excellence for its own sake rather than prestige or fame. This is the kind of chef we see Carmy transforming into, and the kind of chef we’re shown surrounding him. When Sydney, planning for the new business, visits other restaurants seeking guidance, she finds people glad to assist; at the well-regarded eatery Avec, she gets crucial advice from the real-life restaurateur Donnie Madia, playing himself. The show casts the city’s restaurant culture as sophisticated but warm, human. It continually suggests that once you abandon the ladder-climbing it associates with the coasts, ambition can be more about playing the game on your own terms or not playing it at all — pursuing your ambition without the brutal expense or atomizing ultracompetitiveness of places closer to the cultural spotlight.

Chicago is in the sweet spot, asking for no explanation.

In another second-season scene, Sydney has a video chat with the pastry chef Marcus, who has gone to Copenhagen to hone his skills. She has been reading “Leading With the Heart,” a book by the former Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski — a gift from her father. Her offhand summary of its lessons is a little dismissive, but Marcus, a former athlete, gets it: The team “kept drilling,” he says, grinding slowly toward excellence. Marcus receives his own lesson about ambition when he asks Luca, the chef he’s studying under, how he got so good. Luca replies that after working with a superior cook, he realized he wasn’t the best and wasn’t ever going to be the best. He came to see this as a good thing: “I could take that pressure off myself. And the only logical thing to do was to try and keep up with him.” At some point, he says, doing great things is less about skill and more about being open “to the world, to yourself, to other people.”

Content Source: www.nytimes.com

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