Boiling Point: Ellis Barrie on bringing the restaurant kitchen to our screens

Boiling Point: Ellis Barrie on bringing the restaurant kitchen to our screens

by Lauren Fitchett27 September 2023

Boiling Point gripped audiences with its realistic portrayal of a fast-paced restaurant kitchen. With a new TV series of the film airing this week, we spoke to chef consultant Ellis Barrie about bringing the kitchen to life on our screens.

Boiling Point: Ellis Barrie on bringing the restaurant kitchen to our screens

Boiling Point gripped audiences with its realistic portrayal of a fast-paced restaurant kitchen. With a new TV series of the film airing this week, we spoke to chef consultant Ellis Barrie about bringing the kitchen to life on our screens.

Lauren is a food writer at Great British Chefs. She joined the team in 2022, having previously been a food editor at regional newspapers and trade magazines.

Lauren is a food writer at Great British Chefs. She joined the team in 2022, having previously been a food editor at regional newspapers and trade magazines. She is based in Norfolk and spends most of her time trying new recipes at home or enjoying the culinary gems of the east of England.

Lauren is a food writer at Great British Chefs. She joined the team in 2022, having previously been a food editor at regional newspapers and trade magazines.

Lauren is a food writer at Great British Chefs. She joined the team in 2022, having previously been a food editor at regional newspapers and trade magazines. She is based in Norfolk and spends most of her time trying new recipes at home or enjoying the culinary gems of the east of England.

Following a hectic restaurant kitchen in meltdown on the busiest night of the year – the last Friday before Christmas – one-shot film Boiling Point was widely praised when it was released in 2021, not only for the performance of its cast (including Stephen Graham, who played its main character, head chef Andy), but its accurate and immersive depiction of kitchen chaos. That realism is not only thanks to director Philip Barantini (he spent twelve years working in restaurants around acting jobs, working his way up to a head chef role), but also Boiling Point's chef consultants Ellis Barrie, who took on the role for the original short film in 2019, and Tom Brown (of Cornerstone) who stepped in for the 2021 film.

With Boiling Point set to return to our screens on Sunday October 1, this time as a four-part TV series, Ellis – who previously ran The Marram Grass in Anglesey and Lerpwl in Liverpool – has also been back in the kitchen as chef consultant, poring over storylines, sets and seasonality. Picking up six months after the end of the film, the series – which sees Stephen return as Andy – follows the film's sous chef Carly (played by Vinette Robinson) as she opens her own restaurant. Boiling Point will premiere on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday 1 October, airing over the following three weeks, and will be available to watch in full on BBC iPlayer from then. Ahead of its release, we spoke to Ellis about what it takes to bring the kitchen to life on screen.

How did you first get involved with Boiling Point?

Philip Barantini rang me in October 2017 and told me that he had a plan for this film, Boiling Point. He told me a bit about it, and I knew I wanted to be involved. I’d won the Great British Menu fish course that year but I’d always been at the other end of the camera – I’d never been involved on the production side. Everybody came together to film this twenty-minute short at Manchester Cookery School and the college restaurant. We got there on the Friday, had a rehearsal on the Saturday and pulled it together over two days. Everybody rallied around – it was great.

With the feature film, I had to ask Tom Brown – who I was mates with from Great British Menu – to do my role because I was due to open Lerpwl restaurant. I was gutted! Me and Phil kept in touch and he was talking about the series about a year ago. He was like ‘you’re doing it, by the way’ – I didn’t have a choice! Stephen Graham, who is executive producer, also phoned me to book his mum and dad into the restaurant and said ‘by the way, you’re doing Boiling Point, we’re filming in September’. So that was that.

What exactly is the role of a chef consultant?

It’s so massive – I didn’t have a clue what I had let myself in for! I was the only chef consultant and restaurant consultant, so I was helping with any bits of information at any point, starting with storylines. I tried to plan in current affairs in the hospitality industry at the time, about Brexit and what was going on in that timeline. Then it was working with the art department, looking for locations. They decided it would be better to film it in a studio, so I was looking at what goes where in the layout of the kitchen, what works logistically, then when it came to building it I was ringing contacts to make it happen. It was also about thinking of the small details to create the look of the set – like having open bags of flour out.

Then it was writing the menus and specs, working out the seasons we would be cooking in, which was changing all the time. We were also filming seasons that we weren’t actually in so I was trying to get the right produce, which was difficult – if I could guarantee the food was in a close-up shot, we would have to make it happen, but anything background we could be creative with – a green rolled up piece of paper could be a pea, for example. Very strategic. It’s a massive commitment and the graft is unbelievable. It’s four months, non-stop, of your life.

Ellis Barrie on the set of Boiling Point
How did the role change once filming started?

That’s when my role became even more full-on. My whole role, sat next to the directors, was working on the vibe of the kitchen. As they were looking at the performance of the actors, I was watching what was happening with their hands and recreating the energy of different moments of the day. We would do three or five scenes every day and I'd get in the morning to choreograph the scenes with the director before anyone else was in the studio. Then I'd work out what we were cooking and pass it onto my home economics team, who would then start getting all that food ready – we had a little burger van outside the kitchen, because none of the actual kitchen was real.

We’d get the actors to mime what they were doing and we would have two or three roll-throughs of that and then we would bring in the real food. That scene might take two or three times to get the camera where you wanted, but then within that scene you might do different camera angles, so if they were plating stuff up, they would have to redo that again and again.

Did you talk the actors through cheffing skills like knife work?

We sent Vinette Robinson to Pip Lacey’s Hicce restaurant – I’ve known Pip for years because we did Great British Menu together and I was trying to find a leading lady, someone at the top of their game who has worked in those old school-style kitchens but is now leading their own place. I thought Pip was a really good fit for that character, and Vinette spent two days there. There was a bit of training but it was also watching Pip as the pass and looking at how she does things. We’d also use ‘stunt doubles’ as stand-ins for anything close-up – usually agency chefs, but I’d do it too [Ellis was a double for Shaun Fagan]. I’d get fake tattoos on my hands for any close-ups of knife work. Some of the actors would get really good at plating up so we’d let them do it again and again.

Vinette Robinson, who plays sous chef Carly
Are there certain aspects you have to compromise on?

I could always appreciate that an entertaining drama has to have entertainment and drama, so I knew there was a balance. You’d really love actors who are all chefs, but that’s just never going to happen! There was one scene I was trying to nail with a bouillabaisse – I had Stephen working on this bouillabaisse for ages and I had this great TV moment in my mind, but we couldn't get around to filming it because of a fish allergy, which was a shame. I couldn’t hide the disappointment on my face! But no, I’m really proud of what we have been able to do.

What were some common mistakes you wanted to avoid?

The only thing that would get on my nerves is how they hold a tea towel, how they call a check out, how they hold a pen or cross an order off. I wanted to focus on not necessarily the cooking side, but the little things. Having done 10,000 hours in the kitchen, that was my main priority. What’s really interesting is that the actors started to pick up on all these bits – when you are coming to the last couple of months of filming, they’re putting on their tea towels right, they are picking up pans with towels. It’s great.

Chef Ellis Barrie
Have shows like Boiling Point and The Bear raised the bar for chef dramas?

I think there’s an obvious enhancement in the quality. When you watch The Bear or Boiling Point, there’s a buzz about the place and it feels like real restaurants. It doesn’t look robotic. I think the standard is going to go up. In terms of TV and movies, the catering industry has almost got its own category now, which I think is brilliant for the industry – it can only do good things.

Is it important for shows to reflect kitchens' more challenging issues?

Everybody knows that the catering industry has had a bad reputation for exhaustion, bullying and drug-taking. It's always had that bad reputation, but we have got to talk about these topics. You've got to talk about the bad things in the past to progress. Nowadays, kitchens are much nicer places to work in than they have ever been, because they are letting in the public eye. In a lot of kitchens there are better working standards, but even though it’s the best it’s been you still need to do better and that’s what this sort of media encourages to happen.

Stephen Graham returns to the Boiling Point TV series as Andy
And most importantly – does Stephen Graham have what it takes to become a chef?

He could probably do whatever he wants to do – he could definitely go in as an executive chef, giving the orders! He does really like his food and eating out, so I think I would give him a job.

What’s next for you?

This wasn't a planned move – I started it thinking how lucky I am to be involved and that it’s a bucket list job. I'll always say yes to opportunities like this – I love the industry. I enjoy entertaining, be it on TV or cooking for somebody; it’s getting acceptance through entertainment, which is the character I am. I’d like to open restaurants again when the time is right as well, and I’m starting supper clubs in Anglesey from October.

Boiling Point will premiere on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday 1 October 2023. Episodes will air weekly. All will be available to watch on BBC iPlayer from Sunday 1 October 2023.