Kitchen Sink Drama

Is the one-shot the best way to convey the chaos of life as a chef in film and TV?

Yes, chef! The Bear has returned for a new season to give us emotion, stress and Jeremy Allen-White bursting a blood vessel in a tight t-shirt. In season one, it also gifted viewers with an iconic 18 minute scene shot in one long take in episode 7, set around one particularly hectic day in the kitchen of the struggling Chicago sandwich restaurant. The lack of cuts – apart from one literal moment where a character finds himself on the wrong end of a knife – allows us to be a fly on the wall in one of the most high pressure job environments ever put to film. 

The Bear’s creator Christopher Storer and cinematographer Andrew Wehde aren’t the first to make their audiences watch on in horror without the relief of looking away as chefs under immense stress explode at their co-workers. 2021’s Boiling Point stars Stephen Graham as a London chef working in a failing 5 star restaurant, and is all shot in a single take to drop the audience in with the restaurant staff and exemplify how quickly an evening can go off track in a job that requires a delicate balance. And there’s more to come; a 4-part TV series following on from the events of the film is expected to air later this year and will surely have us breaking out the chamomile tea to recover from each instalment.

It’s impossible to talk about single takes that let us into a kitchen without giving an honourable mention to Goodfellas. In Scorsese’s 90s gangster classic, Henry (Ray Liotta) guides his date through the side door of a restaurant, taking us through the inner workings of the building, including the enormous kitchen where chefs are preparing soups and elaborate sculpted cakes. Here, the one-shot shows us not only the (considerably more organised) chaos of a restaurant kitchen, but also Henry’s social mobility as they glide past without being accidentally stabbed or hit with a flying vat soup. It’s as if literally nothing can touch someone when they’re protected by the mob. 

But in a world of seemingly overwhelming representation for chaotic kitchens, there is a restaurant film that uses a long take during a moment of peace. Stanley Tucci’s delightful restaurant drama Big Night ends with his character making a breakfast omelette for his hungover brother, the morning after the titular big night (we’ll let you watch the film to find out what all the drama is about). While one-shot scenes showing meltdowns in the kitchen let us behind the curtain on what it takes to make magical meals, the creation of a simple breakfast in Big Night reminds us that part of the joy in eating comes from the work that goes into cooking the dish itself, and the love that the person making it puts in. Now, if we can only see Carmen Berzatto calmly make a beef sandwich in a single take…