Season 2 of The Bear has dropped and chefs from Kasama, Elske, Ever, and Lao Peng You have finally exhaled after months of keeping their lips sealed, not telling the public about their restaurants’ appearances on FX’s Chicago-centered drama.
While this season showcases more Chicago restaurants, perhaps giving a national audience a better understanding of the city’s scene, not everyone is thrilled with the antics of Carmy and company.
“If you’re a mother of a teenage boy that’s watching that show and he goes, ‘Mom, I want to work in restaurants,’ would you let him?” Bayless said at the event. “No you wouldn’t. That’s like the worst profession in the world.”
Contrary to what many — industry folks included — have applauded the accuracy of the portrayal of kitchen life in the hit show, Bayless, who holds a (by any measure) privileged status in the industry, believes that it leaves out the good parts of the industry. “It’s a profession. It’s something that you can work for years and years, and you can work your way up ladders and you can learn craft and you can make a life for you and your family,” he added.
The snippet was part of a larger 24-minute commentary in which WSJ business editor Jamie Heller asked Bayless, the chef who created the Frontera grocery product brand after opening Mexican restaurants Topolobampo and Frontera Grill, about a variety of topics including the pandemic’s impact, tipping, and how Mexican food grabbed his attention. Heller also asked Bayless about being “the white guy in Mexican cooking.”
The Wall Steet Journal, a paywalled publication, posted a short clip of Bayless’s comments on Instagram and stoked a fire. Many disagreed with Bayless. One commenter wrote: “Right because starting at $7.25 an hour and after a year of hard work I got a 10 cents raise, that’s exactly what I was thinking ‘this is a great career path to make a family with.’” Another wrote: “[Bayless] must be detached from the realities of working in a kitchen lol.”
Bayless has been an advocate of raising salaries to make restaurant pay less dependent on tipping and abolishing tipping altogether (something that new Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson is pushing toward). He feels restaurants need to evolve to survive. He tells Eater he wasn’t trying to provoke a reaction with his comments about the TV show, which just released its second season.
“No! I am trying to point out that how we portray the restaurant business in pop culture is important,” Bayless writes. “Trying to convince people that our profession is not only a viable but positive choice is hard to do when pop culture portrayals and new media coverage only focus on exaggerated negatives.”
The chef says he’s seen most of the first season and he doesn’t have faith that the show will redeem itself in his eyes: “The opening was so ugly that I think it did permanent damage.”
He adds: “Everyone, including me, thinks it’s great TV. There is no arguing that. But I’m looking out for the future of our industry. With all the negativity about our industry in the press, with restaurant jobs being the butt of late-night TV jokes, with so many television shows portraying restaurants as terrible work environments — we have a long path to having restaurants be a respectable career.”
There’s a bit of a parallel here between The Bear’s creator Christopher Storer and Bayless. After the release of Season 1, the show was criticized by some Chicagoans who said it didn’t properly depict Chicago. Storer, a native of suburban Park Ridge, left the area years ago. Last year, Jeremy Allen White defended Storer and told Eater that Season 1 represented the Chicago of Storer’s youth and that he shouldn’t be bashed for using his memories as script fodder.
In a way, that’s Bayless’ perspective: “I have worked in restaurants all my life and never worked in one that was dirty or where people yelled at, demeaned or abused people,” the chef writes. “I know that the places I have worked would not make good TV. But just because ugliness exists do we have to glorify it? Is there nowhere to talk about positive stuff?”
While they are plenty of Chicago cameos in Season 2, here’s a spoiler: Bayless does not appear in any of the 10 episodes.