CHOW's Corner

A Love Letter to The Bear

Written by: jasparkspapa

Published on:

By Jasmin Parks-Papadopoulos

As a long time fan, I just want to let the world know that I’ve just finished watching Season Three of Hulu’s FX’s The Bear.

During this time, I have cried, laughed, retraced my steps in the food/beverage/hospitality industry, steeped in past trauma, ruminated on all of the things that I loved and cared about whilst in the industry, remembered the joy and camaraderie, and frankly, been haunted.

Like the Fak brothers (but with less banter and humor) I was haunted by incomplete and traumatized half thoughts I felt looking at Rene Redzepi gazing longingly at the accumulation of years of creativity. By Terry, who didn’t raise her voice, but ran an efficient and seamless kitchen with the motto “every second counts”. By Thomas Keller, reminding me that I went back every day, just trying to be better than my last clock out; that thought guided me like a lighthouse in so many moments of desperation. By Will Guidara, affirming that once upon a time, before the damage to my mental health, before the terrible disillusionment and disenfranchisement, my career as a chef had been about being the centerpiece of people’s best memory… and what a privilege that was. By Matty Matheson himself, who bizarrely and aptly stated, with palms up in the air, “you need courage to be a server” (why did this make me cry so much?!). You do need courage. So much courage and so much heart. 

I am haunted and I am moved. I am moved by the incredible billet-doux that The Bear is to the food/beverage/hospitality industry.

The filaments of the love letter are present in the episode opening with all of the greats – Daniel Boulud’s musical sea bass, the silent and intense Dave Beran, the multi faceted Adam Shapiro, the Rene Redzepi that I am mourning in a most complicated and intense way almost misplaced for someone you’ve never met and who’s influence you cannot process in a healthful way. It’s a collage that reminds you that you are the sum of all the people in the industry who have taught and invested in you – whether they were pouring in love, knowledge or damage. It’s glaringly re-affirmed in episode two, in a wealthy montage of the daily greats – the housekeepers, bread bakers, factory line workers, the drivers and florists, the firefighters (our past CHOW preamble reminds industry workers that we are more like firefighters and rockstars, than any other industry), the folks who’s day to day grind compose the framework upon which the food/beverage/hospitality industry rests. That foundation is rarely recognized, let alone intentionally highlighted. You may not see them on the Food Network, they may not get awarded with stars, but the Bear nods its hat to them.

It is my belief that this series is made by people who have lived, loved and breathed the food/beverage/hospitality industry. In the minute (and seemingly insignificant, but we know better) and large scale details, the love and admiration and deep and intimate knowledge is there. It’s carefully annotated in the folks drinking out of delis, the long pan focus on the musical beads of the ExPO line (that sound will haunt me forever), the POV of cleaning drawer seams with a toothpick. It’s designed to illicit recognition in all of us who have been there, and I feel like a love sick Pavlovian experiment every time I watch. I watch, riveted and engaged, as I fluctuate between melancholy and longing and complicated grief. I experience the kind of pining that someone might feel for a past lover you don’t see anymore but miss to the core of your being. You know that the lover wasn’t kind to you and wasn’t good for you, but dang you feel them still. For a suspended moment that lasts ten episodes, I am flung back into the industry that I left as the product of the Great Resignation. I love all of the things inside and outside of myself that this series holds to me like a mirror.

I truly, fundamentally and deeply love this show like I believe the creators truly, fundamentally, and deeply love the food/beverage/hospitality industry.

This show has created an amalgamation of food/beverage/hospitality industry imagery depicting misfits finding belonging, healing and community in an industry that often dehumanizes, devalues and marginalizes. THAT is the work that CHOW, and organizations like CHOW, are also doing behind the scenes. We’re building a sustainable workforce so that folks can stay in the food/beverage/hospitality industry in a sane, safe, healthful way.

THIS is why I believe that this show DESERVES resources available listed after every episode.

My journey POST industry has been complicated. Whatever the absolute opposite of linear is, that’s where I have lived. I have spent time drinking, thinking, contemplating, growing, changing and grieving. It’s been equal parts unlearning, stopping, pausing, listening, releasing.

I’ve been fortunate to do most of it nestled in the palm of the CHOW community. Before I was a member of their staff, I was an attendee who found it incredibly difficult to share with a group setting. I was a person who didn’t believe they needed any help. Like many others, the more my mental health suffered, the better my career as a chef was going. The absolute deconstruction of me was peppered with amazing professional wins that conveniently impeded me from looking at the bigger picture. It was impossible to truly experience the damage of it while I was in it. In the time since, I have been able to find a really gracious place to live – I am able to feel the feelings, I can name them now, I am learning to sit with them. I want this for all food/beverage/hospitality workers. I want more passing down of actionable skills, support, resources and tools and less passing down of trauma, pain and damage.

I fervently believe that EVERY person who is as moved as I am by this show, deserves to experience what is on the OTHER side of the coin available to us – a place to talk about it with folks who get it.

I also believe that a trigger warning can be a flag – something that says “hey! As you’re traveling through here, you might experience some turbulence!”. I experience the “turbulence” of the Bear as being moved – deeply, positively, intensely, negatively, with my whole nervous system. It is beautiful and NECESSARY content that promotes visibility, and it is MOVING. Content that is moving can lead to dysregulation, complicated emotional reactions, and strong FEELINGS that have no place to go. It deserves, we deserve, to meet that with resources and a place for processing and integrating those.

I find incredible value in sharing these thoughts, feelings and ideas about the show at CHOW meetings with folks have been there. We often talk about the show, we compare reactions and feelings that were activated within us while watching. We find easter eggs together, spot shared experiences, we use the plot as a device with which to share OUR own stories. We smile, we reminisce, we feel the unfinished and unprocessed things, we hold each other’s stories gently and with reverence.

I want EVERYONE who watches the show to have access to this.

I want everyone who loves and respects the food/beverage/hospitality industry, including the creators of this show, to stand with me in solidarity and alignment when I say – it’s complicated. It’s moving. Let’s talk about it.

The love letter to the industry can end with – this is what the industry is today. It’s glorious and complex, damaging and changing, and there are resources available to you as you are navigating all of the wealth of experience of it.

Sign it with me: https://chng.it/HjWLpG46m2