The dinner table; a place for families, friends, acquaintances, and strangers to meet and break bread, settle business deals, discuss the days behind, and the days ahead. For as longs as I can remember and surely many hundreds of years beyond that, the dinner table, in whatever shape it may have been, was and still is a place of connection.
Oftentimes our image of what a dinner table is or should be is a romanticized Norman Rockwell painting, with kin dressed in their best and mama serving a large succulent turkey. The reality is, a dinner table can take many shapes and forms and is really dependent upon the situation at hand. I believe that the film Burnt, directed by John Wells and starring Bradley Cooper as Adam Jones, a seasoned two star Michelin chef, exemplifies the fluidity of the dinner table and its ability to morph from a family function to a business setting.
Burnt focuses on a Chef after redemption that aspires to earn his third Michelin star after an imploding of his career and restaurant in France. Adam is a brilliant chef who through the years has seen his fair share of success and failures, both in life and on the line. His arrogance is matched by his skill with the knife and his temper is as sharp as a hand-folded Japanese gyuto. Many of his past decisions have impacted his present and future, and we take a ride through his rise back into Chef stardom. As the plot develops we learn about the importance of a Michelin review for fine dining restaurants. The entire focus of the film shifts to an endless pursuit of another star and the importance of it for the restaurant and chef.
An interesting and unique perspective is that which comes from a food critic or Michelin inspector. This takes on a whole new meaning of “business meeting”. People make reservations at these fine dining establishments to celebrate a graduation, a promotion, or an anniversary, while unbeknownst to the typical diner there are people who are there to rate and review the same restaurant.
The dinner table can be a place where these critics and normal restaurant diners enjoy the same meal but for different purposes. The families celebrating a college graduation discuss the past and future of a young man or woman as the critics ponder the overuse of spices and under-done fish. Within Burnt we see a snapshot of the inspectors: an order for a half of bottle of wine, tap water, and a selection from the a la carte and tasting menus, always in a dining pair, one showing up 30 minutes after the other. Interestingly, John Wells limits our interaction with these important restaurant deciders, yet the entire movie and Adam’s life is dependent upon their experience.
The world we live in can sometimes be brutal, and then there is the food industry, where it is always brutal. A food critique or Michelin review can catapult a restaurant into feast or famine with amazing ease. The dining experience of a well-known food critique is often heightened. Once these critics are identified, special care and attention are placed on their ticket and service. They are all business and are focused on giving the fairest evaluation of the food and experience they have, which makes it less of a dinner table and more of an office desk.
This film offers insight into the mind of a fine dining chef and owner and, intriguingly, the dining experience of a critic or inspector. The importance of the dinner table cannot be understated or undervalued for a critic or chef. One earns a living eating the other’s food. Once again we see the power of the dinner table and its ability to influence people’s lives.