Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Bear season 2
As The Bear’s culinary producer, Courtney Storer is responsible for making sure the food onscreen always looks delicious and that the cast’s culinary skills are always on-point. With season 2 of the acclaimed FX series, now streaming on Hulu, her job became “bigger than just creating the food and making vision boards,” Storer tells TIME. “The writers created these dialogues and these beautiful character journeys; it was my job to bring that to life through the food.”
The first season of The Bear ended with Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (played by Jeremy Allen White) choosing to turn his family’s beloved Chicago sandwich shop The Beef into The Bear, the upscale and inventive restaurant he once dreamed of opening with his late brother, Mikey (Jon Bernthal). This season, The Bear looks at the stress that comes with opening a restaurant, a task so all-encompassing it doesn’t give Carmy much time to grieve the loss of his brother. But he’s not the only one struggling to find a work life balance; every character on The Bear has their own pain to overcome in order to get this dream culinary venture off the ground. “What’s so interesting about the food this season,” Storer says, “is how the characters are relating to it.”
Below, she shares the stories behind season 2’s most memorable dishes and even more memorable cameos.
The worst Christmas dinner ever
Storer, known to her friends as “Coco,” has her own personal connection to the food on The Bear. Her brother, Christopher Storer, is the show’s creator and he often includes real meals that he ate during his own dysfunctional childhood in the show. (The family meal spaghetti from the season 1 finale is the recipe he would make for his sister when she was too burned out from work to cook for herself.) “It’s not even research,” Storer says of creating the food seen on screen. “It’s just stuff that we’ve lived.”
Reliving some of her family’s worst moments through The Bear isn’t always easy for the former culinary director of the Italian restaurant Jon + Vinny’s in L.A. The stressful Berzatto family Christmas dinner in episode 6, which flashes back about five years before the current season, and features cameos from Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, and Jamie Lee Curtis, as Carmy’s mom, “hit a little too close to home,” she says. “But being able to hold [Curtis’s] hands and just be like, ‘I love you’ and ‘you’re great’” helped Storer work through her complicated feelings surrounding family holidays. It’s why she sees the series as a form of art therapy.
“Food is a tether to sensory experience. The smell, the taste, it’s all very tangible and very painful,” she says. “But it’s also very beautiful.”
The culinary importance of Copenhagen
Pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce) heads to the capital of Denmark in episode 4 to refine his skills and “burst his food bubble,” Storer says. The Scandinavian city became a destination for food lovers in the mid-aughts thanks to Noma, the three-star Michelin restaurant that was named the World’s Best Restaurant five times since it opened in 2004. (Sadly, earlier this year, it was announced that Noma would be closing in 2024; the owners said that fine dining has become “unsustainable.”)
The city has a reputation for shepherding inventive chefs like Richard Hart, the former Noma baker behind the pastry shop Hart Bageri, and Rosio Sanchez, the owner of Hija de Sanchez taquerias, who holds a special place in Storer’s heart. “She was from Chicago. She worked at Noma,” Storer says. “She spread her wings [in Copenhagen] and it’s been a huge influence on me.” In the show, the city has a big influence on Carmy, who worked at Noma in his early days as a chef. “He had a story in Copenhagen. We haven’t fully heard it,” says Storer, hinting that we could in the future. “But in Marcus, Carmy sees a bit of himself and as a chef, you can see when someone is really passionate and has the creativity to do this. As a mentor, it’s your job to help people get to that place.”
To help Boyce nail his character Marcus’ arc from curious cook to skilled chef, he trained with Storer for months. The two worked on his baking skills, but also spoke about the kinds of foods Boyce would like to see Marcus make. It was the actor’s favorite childhood snack that inspired the honey bun his character created for the new restaurant’s tasting menu. “It was something Lionel ate as a kid and he said, ‘I would love to make something like that.’” The bun should look familiar to anyone whose desserts were made by Little Debbie, but Marcus refines the grocery store treat to be a playful homage to his ailing mother that also acts as a sweet and sticky shout out to Boyce’s own mom.
Lionel Boyce and Will Poulter in ‘The Bear’
Chuck Hodes—FX Networks
The “minty Snickers bar”
Carmy sends Marcus to Copenhagen so he can learn from Chef Luca (Will Poulter), a talented London-born pastry chef who makes beautifully composed desserts that taste like the candy you devoured as a kid. Luca’s “minty Snickers bar” creation allows Marcus to think outside the box of what a gourmet dessert can be. Storer created the picture perfect dessert with help from Chef Curtis Duffy, the executive chef and owner of Ever, which is considered by many to be one of Chicago’s best restaurants. (Episode 7, which marked Richie’s first foray into high-end cuisine, was filmed inside the two-star Michelin restaurant.) The candy bar-inspired dessert is built like a three-layer cake; on top, a layer of coconut cream set with gelatin, a middle layer of mint shiso, and, on the bottom, a chocolate sauce with a bit of caramel. A cracker on top adds a bit of crunch to the dessert that almost looks too good to eat.
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Poulter trained for months to be able to plate the delicate dessert that must be assembled with tweezers. “When he got cast,” Storer says, “we connected and, because of his crazy traveling schedule, we became pen pals.” She sent him a “chef’s kit”—a set of knives and other necessary tools—and a few recipes to try on his own, but she also shared with him her private journals and letters “just so he could understand the vulnerability of being a chef.” Poulter then went and staged, cooking lingo for “interned,” at some of London’s best restaurants including St. John and F.K.A.B.A.M.
“Anyone who will be cooking for the camera, we try to get them in kitchens immediately,” she says. “It’s not just knife skills, it’s so much bigger than that. The movement [of a kitchen] is different, the pace, the communication, it’s all different.” Luckily, Poulter caught on reasonably quick. “He’s the warmest, kindest, most eager to learn soul,” she says. “He took it really seriously.”
Celebrating Chicago’s finest food
In episode 3, Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) takes a tour of Chicago’s finest restaurants, making stops at Avec, Elske, and Kasama, where she devours the modern Filipino restaurant’s internet famous breakfast sandwich. Sydney’s smorgasbord of local culinary delights was inspired by Storer’s own rare days off as a chef when she would “go to every single amazing food place, sit down, eat, and be around the community,” she says, in hopes of drawing inspiration for the future.
When creating recipes for The Bear, Storer often looks to her fellow chefs for help. For the Seven Fishes dish, inspired by Carmy’s mom, she seeked the counsel of chefs Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, the married duo behind Kasama. They took the multi-course Italian Christmas staple and “finessed” it to become one complete dish for a tasting menu. “We used one prawn and mussels and this beautiful fumé with saffron,” she says. “It was just a beautiful dish.”
With all the time Storer has spent creating recipes for the show, she’d like to one day release a cookbook. Maybe even one inspired by The Bear. “It’s up to FX if they want to do that kind of stuff,” she says. “I want to do it and if the people want it, I have to give the people what they want.”
Ayo Edebiri in ‘The Bear’
Chuck Hodes—FX Networks
Sydney’s perfect omelet
Throughout season 2, Sydney’s palette seems a little off. The food she is testing for the restaurant’s menu, which she affectionately calls “the chaos menu,” is too salty or too acidic. The pressure of starting a new business seems to be getting to her. That is, until she makes an omelet for Carmy’s pregnant sister, Natalie (Abby Elliott). Not just any omelet, but one topped with crushed potato chips.
The omelet Sydney makes was inspired by Chef Ludo Lefebvre, who, Storer says, is known for his perfect omelet. (The secret? You need to whisk the eggs through a sieve, she says.) Sydney’s omelet is filled with a blend of soft cheese and chives and topped with ruffled sour cream and onion potato chips. “We bought all the chips and were testing them,” Storer says. “We ate a lot of omelets that day.”
Syd makes it look easy to make the breakfast staple, but it took a lot of practice. “Ayo is in front of a whole cast and crew and she has to whip up this omelet,” Storer says, which is a surprisingly technical dish that even long-time professionals struggle with. “Watching her channel what it’s like to be a chef and step into it with such bravery and courage, really inspired me,” she continues. “Cooking is vulnerable and not knowing how to do it is vulnerable. It was cool to see that strength in her.”
Olivia Colman reigns in the kitchen
In episode 7, Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) stages at a world-famous restaurant run by Chef Terry. It isn’t until the final moments of the episode in which the mysterious executive chef is revealed to be played by Olivia Colman. “Chris was talking about who this mysterious character would be and he was like, ‘I think it needs to be a woman,’” Storer says. “And I was like, ‘Yes, it does!’”
Alice Waters and Marcella Hazan, two women who broke the culinary glass ceiling, became the inspiration for the character. “These amazingly strong women were able to create these food dynasties with a different demeanor, a different sort of elegance” than the men who came before them. It felt only fitting that the woman who once played Queen Elizabeth II would play the chef who trained notable up-and-comers Carmy and Luca. (Check out the photo of the two hanging in Chef Terry’s restaurant.)
“I was pinching myself,” Storer says of teaching Colman how to peel mushrooms for the reflective scene she shares with Moss-Bachrach. “It’s something that takes incredible care and attention to detail so that was the perfect task to give her to show that she is someone who is still there doing the work. That’s the thing, it’s not glamorous [being a chef]. It’s hard, very physical work that just doesn’t stop.” Colman, like the rest of the cast, came ready. “She’s just incredibly established, but sincere,” Storer says. “She’s warm, kind, and very normal. She was just as excited to be there as we were to have her, which was kind of cool.”
A savory cannoli
The final shot of episode 6 is of a heaping tower of cannolis with a fork stuck in it. The cutlery was thrown by Mikey and meant for uncle Lee (Odenkirk); the stabbed cannolis become collateral damage in Carmy’s memory of a night that ended with his mom driving her car through the family home. Carmy decides to reclaim the classic Italian pastry by turning it into a savory dessert that Marcus calls “The Michael.” The sweet, but mostly salty dessert—a Parmesan shell stuffed with mostarda and onion jam, coated in pistachios—is the brainchild of Storer, who, like Carmy, has her own complicated relationship with the dessert staple.
“I worked at a restaurant, my first restaurant, where I learned to stuff cannolis from an Italian nonna named Barb,” she says. It’s one of her favorite food memories, but cannolis also “bring back heavy memories” from her childhood. For her—and for Carmy—being a chef is like being a member of “the broken hearts club. The things that made me who I am come from hardship,” she says. “But I love hospitality because it’s the art of giving back, nurturing, and caring for others. By reinventing this dessert, taking the power and control back, we’re putting one foot towards healing.”
Correction, June 27
The original version of this story misstated the name of a London restaurant. It is St. John, not St. John’s.
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