Trauma on the Table: Exploring Carmey's Culinary Expression in The Bear
by Laura Tinkler
The Bear is a comedy-drama series centering on a young chef, Carmen ‘Carmey’ Berzatto, an acclaimed chef in the fine-dining world, coming back home to Chicago to run his family’s sandwich shop following the death of his older brother, Mikey. Season 2 centers on Carmey’s quest to rebuild the shop into a fine dining establishment and follows Carmey through the process of building a menu, drawing on his life growing up in Chicago.
Season 2 Episode 6 "Fishes" is set five years prior to the events of the show 'The Bear.' It features a flashback to a particularly memorable, hectic Christmas dinner with the Berzattofamily. In the episode, Donna, the Berzatto matriarch, prepares The Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian American Christmas Eve celebration featuring fish and other seafood dishes. The episode is fast-paced and anxiety-inducing. In the kitchen, where Donna is preparing the feast, the camera is fast, shaky, and constantly moving. At least three sauce-stained kitchen timers blare suddenly at unknown intervals. The sounds of clattering dishes and voices yelling are cacophonous. The dishes are overwhelming. The gravy is red, bubbling, and nearly overflowing in the pot, appearing almost like lava. This combined makes the kitchen a claustrophobic and hellish atmosphere, adding to the anxiety and building tension within the family. Carmey, the show’s main protagonist, and Donna both use food as an escape. Donna uses the excuse of cooking to avoid confrontation related to her mental illness or drinking problem, demonstrated by her repeated avoidance and agitation towards those asking if she is ‘okay’. Carmey uses food to dissociate, choosing to hyper-fixate in order to disconnect from his chaotic surroundings. Tensions rise between the family members, and a brawl breaks out over the dinner table afterMikey throws a fork at Lee. This chaos is abruptly halted when Donna, in a manic haze, drives a car through the dining room.
In the episode's final shot, Carmey stares blankly at a perfect plate of cannolis, now ruined by the forenamed fork. In this moment, the cannoli holds paradoxical meanings for Carmey. On one hand, the cannoli represents his childhood and family traumas. A symbol of the Italian-American family, now imbued with the trauma associated with these family gatherings. On the other hand, the cannoli represents Carmey's love of cooking, an activity closely tied to his trauma yet also functioning as his escape and self-expression. This provides further context to Carmey's choice to add a cannoli to his restaurant menu, a material representation of Carmey addressing and working through his traumas.
"Fishes." The Bear, season 2, episode 6. Dir. Christopher Storer. Writ. Joanna Calo and Christopher Storer. Perf. Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Ayo Edebiri. FXP. 2022. Streaming.