Food, Art, and Love
by Tori Placentra
In the 2015 film Burnt lighting, color, and cuts are used to elevate cooking to an unparalleled art. The film opens with Adam shucking his last of one million oysters, his penance for the mistakes of the past. When his self-imposed punishment is over, he flies to London, surprising many old friends and cleverly persuading them to financially back him and his new restaurant. Adam finds inspiration all around him. He walks through food markets where myriad cuisines are being prepared, he inquires as to the oils used for cooking, the spices from all the cooks, tasting everything. The viewer can almost smell all the aromas that must be floating around the street market. Adam is also able to pinpoint in what order the ingredients for a dish were prepare and how long it sat before being served – his gustatory and culinary skills are remarkable.
In the kitchen however, Adam is harsh and often screams and throws dishes. The behavior distances him from his staff, which is depicted in the film through the looks of fear on the staff’s face and also the actual distance between the characters on screen. Adam is separated from his staff by the “pass” on which the food is plated before serving, an additional barrier to the space between them. These barriers within the kitchen make for a more chaotic environment in which the food is prepared and clearly presents a problem for obtaining the third Michelin star.
Throughout the film, Adam develops a relationship with a very talented young cook named Helene. Helene teaches Adam about the importance of closeness and communication while he helps her refine her skills as a chef. As their relationship develops, the on-screen barriers slowly start to come down. This is shown in Figure 1, where Adam and Helene stand quite close to one another and he asks her advice on a new sauce he has prepared.
This struggle between professionalism and personal relationships is represented in the ideas about food in the film as well. The natural purpose of food is for people to eat when they are hungry (the relationship side of things), but Adam says he wants to make food that “makes people stop eating.” It would make people stop eating because it’s so decadent, surprising, rich they would have to stop and take it in, put their forks down and just experience (the art and professionalism side). However, these two are not as inherently different as they may seem. This is what the film shows. Adam learns to incorporate both. In one of the final scenes, after the Michelin raters come to the restaurant, Adam exchanges a look with his good friend Tony. The viewer does not know whether or not this look means the third star was obtained, but there is a sense that it does not really matter because in the very next scene, Adam is sitting down with his staff for a family meal before the dinner service begins, a marked difference from his harsh, aloof nature at the beginning. The film means to show that you can have both the art and the prestige, and love.
Burnt. Dir. John Wells. Prod. Stacey Sher, Erwin Stoff, and John Wells. Perf. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. The Weinstein Company. 2015.