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Marcus Wareing on Burnt: 'I think Bradley Cooper in chef whites will inspire a generation of chefs'

Marcus Wareing: 'Bradley Cooper knows food, you can just tell'

by Izzy Burton 30 October 2015

We spoke to Marcus Wareing about his work consulting on Burnt, the challenges he faced and how the process has influenced his own approach to leadership.

Izzy writes for Great British Chefs where she combines a lifetime love of food and tricolons.

For those of us excitedly eyeing up the adverts and posters, the moment is now here: Burnt, a tale of high pressure, hot pans and hubris by acclaimed screenwriter Steven Knight, opens in cinemas across the UK in early November. With plenty of scenes shot across the pass for us there was one big question: how was Bradley's performance in the kitchen? We spoke to Marcus Wareing, himself a leading figure in the culinary world, about his work consulting on the film, the challenges he faced and how the process has influenced his own approach to leadership.

Did Steven Knight say what inspired him to write a film set in the industry? How did the process start?

I don’t know, and you know I have absolutely no idea how Steven Knight got put in front of me seven years ago – I’ve got no fucking clue! I can’t remember how I ended up meeting him, why I met him, why I actually sat down and talked to a stranger about my life and work . . . I think it was his professional approach and the fact he wanted to write something about this industry.

When you read the script for the first time did much of it resonate with you?

There’s a hell of a lot of familiarity in the movie for me personally, but there is also a storyline that fits with it. [Steven had] asked me about stories within the industry, about chefs around the world; I’ve been in the industry for thirty years, I’ve worked with some amazing chefs, and I can talk forever about this industry and why we do the things we do. It’s not about what I think of the industry, it’s based around a character that Steven has created – but in that, it’s definitely a character that I’m familiar with. I don’t want to put myself in the picture and say it’s me, or a Gordon or a Marco, or an Anthony Bourdain . . . there were lots of discussions and lots of stories. There are lots of people involved with this.

What exactly was your role?

My job was to create a kitchen atmosphere, so I had to do what I thought was best to get them to look and act like chefs. That was difficult in some ways, but also easy at the same time.

In what way?

Every day I had to set the scene, whether it’s a lunch service, a Wednesday night or a Friday night service. You had to create the look and feel, and make sure that everybody looks like and was acting like they were cooking and doing the right thing at the right time for that particular scene. So, at 8 o’clock on a Wednesday morning everyone would be in doing a scene that’s supposed to be a busy Saturday night and Bradley Cooper is in the shit up to his eyeballs. Everyone has literally just got out of bed, got out the shower and they’re full of coffee – I’ve got to then make that kitchen, that scene set and the actors looking like they’ve just done a fourteen hour shift! Every day was incredibly long to get the right feel. You’d come in you’d get the stoves on and you’d get people cooking – you’d literally get the whole cast cooking!

They really cooked?

Yeah! It’s not just acting, it’s getting the scene to look real. To get the stove dirty, to get pans boiling away and make the pots look like they’ve had food in them for a while. Make sure that everyone’s got their aprons in the right position, that they look a bit dirty, they look a bit hot, a bit gaunt, a bit pissed off like they’ve been working all day. And that was one scene out of hundreds of different ones in different locations. The majority of the cooking was done on location at Ealing Studios – we shot for three weeks there in a studio set designed like a real kitchen. In fact, it was a real kitchen, you could’ve picked it up and put it anywhere and it would’ve been fully functioning! It was amazing, stunning, I would’ve liked to have had it.

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Did they base it on any restaurant in particular?

I designed it. I worked with the art director, advising on the layout of the kitchen and what equipment was needed.

Was there any degree of fantasy in that for you?

Not really, I’ve done it before, I’ve built my own kitchens . . . I did have to take into consideration that this would be seen by millions of people so it had to look good! It also had to fit the movie itself – the character, the type of chef Adam Jones was, the era he was cooking in. I think I already had a vision in my head before we developed the set.

This is not a food movie, it’s not going to teach you to cook and it’s not going to show you how to make foams. It’s about one man’s obsession with his own head

Do you think the film captured the unique quality of the London restaurant scene?

It’s not really about the London restaurant scene . . . If we did capture that, well, that’s up to everyone’s interpretation as to whether we got it right or wrong. What I wanted to show was a kitchen that was at the highest level – two-Michelin-star level – run by a chef who has demons.

What sort of demons?

Drink, drugs and his own inability to trust people. A lack of understanding of how to trust people – he’s only ever had one way of acting and that was by pure aggression and downright arrogance to everyone around him. So it was setting the person, the character of Adam Jones, in his own world. I don’t necessarily see him as a representation of London, that’s for sure. It’s not about London cookery, it’s about a person. This is not a food movie, it’s not going to teach you to cook and it’s not going to show you how to make foams. It’s about one man’s obsession with his own head and what floats around in it, and the fact that he just fucking can’t listen to anyone!

It’s a great cast

It’s a really fantastic cast; Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Uma Thurman – who is one of my movie heroes – and Omar Sy who’s as hot as anything at the moment . . . It’s good because the characters are quite mixed in the kitchen, so bringing Omar in as the French sous chef it’s just like, yeah, he fits it perfectly! He looks right in whites, he’s French, he doesn’t speak perfect English, but he’s worked in Paris. Bradley speaks perfect French, fluent French.

I didn’t know that!

No, I didn’t know that either!

 

He’s a man of thousands of talents – it seems there are always articles revealing his hidden skills

He’s a good cook, that’s for sure. He knows how to pick up a character and to watch and take inspiration from those around him. As a consultant for the movie I just had to get to know where my line was and not step over it, making sure I pay respect towards him as an actor and make sure he’s creating the character that he wants. What I had to do was just watch him and just come off side of the chef and say ‘Bradley, the way you’ve dressed that plate, the way you’re holding that spoon doesn’t look right in that scene’. His lines and how he wanted to act was totally him, it was nothing to me. I just had to polish the sides of what was a pretty accurate portrayal of the role. It wasn’t easy that, by the way.

No?

 
 
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Marcus instructs Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller on plating technique

No, it wasn’t easy, it was very difficult to be honest. You had to make sure you weren’t overstepping the mark or trying to direct him. A consultant can be the biggest pain in the arse on anything! They’re there to advise you, and my job was kitchen design, restaurant design, table design, what sort of crockery we use what cutlery we use, menus, the way they were written, the recipes. My part in the finishing of all that was to stand behind the director and just watch. You could be there all day and pinpoint two wrong things, or there could be other days where there are twenty-five things that aren’t right. For me, it was more setting the scene around Bradley Cooper rather than teaching him to cook. It was never a cookery lesson to him, it was always just making sure he held the right things at the right time.

Was it like teaching someone a language phonetically rather than teaching them the language from scratch?

Yeah, I think you’re right. He had a basic understanding of kitchens already [from Kitchen Confidential in America] and I get the feeling he knows food. You know when you can just tell? There was no fear factor.

Confidence is very important in cooking . . .

It is, and Bradley had it in abundance. He’d just finished filming American Sniper, so he was full of that soldier spirit, that high energy, that deep volume in the voice. For him to then turn round and command a kitchen with that – it was perfect. Perfect timing for the part he was playing. A head chef like this character who has been working in kitchens throughout the nineties and noughties, he would turn round to his brigade and fucking bark at them in a vicious way! That’s what the industry was like. On set, the rest of the cast just had to take it. I really believe that Bradley Cooper in chef whites in this film will inspire a generation of chefs, young people, to feel really upbeat about this incredible industry that we’ve got. Even from this one movie alone the industry will have a new ambassador through this character. I was inspired by television when I was growing up – MasterChef with Lloyd Grossman, and a show called Take Six Cooks with top chefs from London. Unless I’d seen that TV show I never would’ve known they’d existed. I think Bradley Cooper will inspire young people to be cooks and feel good about their job.

 
I really believe that Bradley Cooper in chef whites in this film will inspire a generation of chefs, young people, to feel really upbeat about this incredible industry that we’ve got. Even from this one movie alone the industry will have a new ambassador through this character.

So do you think the film gives an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to be cooking in kitchens at that level?

No, it gives you a portrayal of an A-list celebrity who’s a fucking superstar who you might want to be one day! It doesn’t have to be the perfect portrayal, this foam pumping, molecular gastronomy chef. It’s telling a story about how chefs of that era got where they wanted to go. This movie will show you that this man has to get rid of his demons in order to be a better cook, and it will give you some idea of the evolution of restaurants and fine dining over the last twenty years.

Did you factor that evolution in with dish design and plating?

No, because it’s adapted as I’ve grown up in the industry. I started with dishes of mine from ten, fifteen years ago and brought them right into the present. There’s actually a massive reflection of my own food across the movie – I didn’t use cookery books, I used my own recipes, my own style. There’s a massive collection, all the way from my L’Oranger and Pétrus days up until the present day. I’m not going to tell you what they are because you need to watch the movie!

We will, and we’re looking forward to your cameo!

I didn’t ask to do it, it was something one of my team suggested in a meeting and the director said ‘that’s a great idea, let’s throw it in!’ That one scene of me ordering a bacon sandwich and walking off with it, which probably lasted about five seconds in the movie took a whole fucking day to make! John Wells shot the entire movie with one camera – a whole film with one cameraman! – each scene had to be shot from four, five, six different angles. Every angle you could think of, just to make sure they’ve got everything.

 
 
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One of Marcus Wareing's dishes used in the film, Herdwick lamb, beetroot and turnip
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Another of Marcus Wareing's dishes, Mascarpone, blood orange and streusel

Was there much shouting from the director during filming?

There was actually a great deal of respect; never any raised voices ever, outside of shooting. Ever. The director, John Wells, never raised his voice once. He was a true professional. What I really liked about John was that if he wasn’t happy he’d wait and just say ‘do it again’. And they’d do it, again and again and again. You can’t get involved when someone’s acting, you can only let them get on with it, so when they’ve stopped acting there’s no point going in and blowing their heads off because they’re not going to do it right the second time, they're just going to get pissed off with you. The fact they’ve got it wrong is bad enough for anyone, if they’ve got their lines wrong and messed up a scene for everyone else. You think cooks feel stressed with what they do, fucking hell – come onto a movie set! It’s horrendous.

 
 
I’ve met some amazing people, and if I can’t learn anything from these experiences then poor me

Did you bring anything from the experience and that style of directing back to your kitchen?

I’ve done it already, definitely. John Wells inspired me, just like working on MasterChef with Karen Ross inspired me. It’s made me a better communicator in my business, it’s stopped me barking at everyone as much. I’ve worked with some top actors and amazing directors, I’ve worked in TV on and off . . . I’ve met some amazing people, and if I can’t learn anything from these experiences then poor me.

It’s great that you came onto the film as a consultant and ended up taking something away from the experience yourself

I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. I don’t need the pay cheque, I’m more than happy with what I’ve got. My role wasn’t about meeting Bradley Cooper or making a movie, it was about doing my job properly. That’s the one thing I’ve learnt through working in film and television – if everyone just does what they’re paid to do and doesn’t interfere in anyone else’s work then the job gets done really well. I think that applies to restaurants in general.

So you’re glad you’ve done it?

My father taught me to do things for the right reasons and come away a better person, and I really do feel that I have – and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. If I never do it again, I will never forget this experience. It was amazing.

 
 

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Marcus Wareing: 'Bradley Cooper knows food, you can just tell'

 
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