If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, watching “The Bear” is an adrenaline-spiking, possibly psychologically exhausting experience. The Hulu series, with two seasons under its belt and a 99% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, is not actually about the terrifying predatory mountain animal, but rather about a family-run beef shop in Chicago. Try taking a shot every time you hear “Yes, chef!”––you’ll be out of commission in minutes.
Season one kicks off when Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (played, like every handsome, working-class, alcoholic Chicagoan on television, by Jeremy Allen White), an acclaimed New York chef, returns home to take over his brother Michael’s beef sandwich shop in River North after Michael dies by suicide. “The Bear” is subtle and hilarious, but heavy with the weight of undiscussed grief that yields masterful performances by White, Ayo Edebiri as his spunky and ambitious sous chef Syd and Ebon Moss-Bachrach as his charming but unfulfilled “cousin” Richie.
In season two, Carmy and Syd join forces to re-open the ramshackle beef shop as a brand-new fine-dining establishment, The Bear, named after Michael’s nickname. Seriously, this show is like one long montage scene of a ragtag crew of emotionally stunted Chicagoans pulling themselves and each other together and discovering their higher purpose: the thrill and beauty of creating a high-end culinary experience. To develop the menu, Syd takes herself exploring through all of Chicago’s neighborhoods, sampling different cuisines –– a sort of “research” I wish I could’ve gotten away with doing in college. We’ve got her syllabus for you right here, plus a few other Chicago restaurants that influence the characters in the show. Luckily for your wallet, they don’t all have Michelin stars.