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Sydney Adamu and Carmen Berzatto in The Bear.
Sydney Adamu and Carmen Berzatto in The Bear. FX

How The Bear sets up stereotypes of tough male and emotional female chefs – and then tears them down

This article contains spoilers for the second series of The Bear.

The Michelin star chef Marco Pierre White said in 2019: “The real positive with men [in professional kitchens is] they are not as emotional, and they don’t take things personally.” While he credited women with having a better sense of smell, and for being consistent and punctual, he said: “Men can absorb pressure better in busy moments.”

I reflected a lot on this statement while researching and writing my book Hysterical: Exploding the myth of gendered emotions, about how the long history of women being perceived as “emotional” has disadvantaged them and kept them out of certain domains.

When it comes to the domain of top flight kitchens, we see this real world issue reflected in the hit series The Bear. Now in its third season, the show follows an unconventional crew of cooks at a Chicago sandwich shop as it transforms under the vision of Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White).

Leaving behind an illustrious career in Michelin-starred kitchens, Carmy returns to Chicago when his brother dies by suicide. Carmy wants more and, spurred on by equally passionate sous chef Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri), the business makes the jump from sandwich shop to fine dining.

As we see in The Bear, professional kitchens are a domain where there are fewer women at the top level than men – despite cooking in the domestic sphere being a traditionally feminine realm.

According to an analysis of over 2,286 Michelin star restaurants in over 16 countries in 2022, only about 6% of the top kitchens in the world are led by women. In March 2024, Adejoké Bakare became the first Black woman in the UK to win a Michelin star, and only the second in the world, for her restaurant Chishuru.

The Bear revels in the artistry of food and there are frequent name drops of the real-world kitchens that Carmy and Sydney hope to emulate. These kitchens are, however, all led by men. There is Daniel Boulud with two Michelin stars, Dave Beran at Pasjoli with one Michelin star, René Redzepi at the world-famous Noma with three Michelin stars, and Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, the only American chef with three stars for two different restaurants.

The show does feature one female chef who is idolised by The Bear’s staff – Andrea Terry of Ever. She is, however, fictional, played by the British actor Olivia Coleman.

While this is disappointing, the show’s narrative does challenge Pierre White’s thinking about the emotional stereotypes of men and women in the kitchen.

Head chef Carmy spends so much of his time in his head. As well as not being able to let go of his ego in the kitchen, he also falls apart when confronted with pressure and grief. We slowly see how his style of leadership is not very collaborative. For instance, he makes executive decisions without consulting Sydney.

On the other hand, there are women who are shown to be the ones handling their emotions and rising to the challenge even when things are tough.

Natalie or “Sugar”, Carmy’s sister, is dealing with the same grief and trauma as Carmy and is also pregnant. Sugar is shown as the one who has to be strong enough to deal with their alcoholic mother, the one project managing The Bear and the practical one in contrast to Carmy’s high-end creativity.

At Ever, Andrea Terry is an unassuming presence, a calm leader who is an authoritative presence behind the scenes. In the second and third seasons she is on the screen for less than ten minutes. But in these few moments, she challenges the misconception of what a good leader ought to be like, with her serene steadfastness and compassionate communication.

Terry sees the best in people, whether while sharing her story of failure with The Bear’s maître d’ Richard “Richie” Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who is having doubts of his own, or seeing the creative side of Carmy and giving it the approval that he so desperately yearns for. She is able to do this while also being uncompromising on quality and expecting the best from her staff.

The Bear's Sydney Adamu in a Kitchen
Sydney keeps her cool and runs the kitchen while Carmy breaks down. FX

The end of season two stood out for me as a perfect example of how gendered emotional stereotypes, especially in professional kitchens are obsolete. As Carmy has a panic attack and starts spiralling while locked inside the walk-in chiller, we see the way Sydney, despite her inexperience in charge, resolutely manages the pressures and keeps things running smoothly on The Bear’s opening night.

She is, again and again, a foil to Carmy, with his nervous and unrelenting energy. In season three, she really comes into her own and is the one who remains consistently calm and focused under pressure.

Gendered emotional stereotypes are still playing a role in how women and men are treated in the workplace, and what opportunities they have for leadership. Comments such as those made by Marco Pierre White are a huge setback in the drive towards gender equality. However, we are beginning to see these emotional norms being challenged on screen.

The Bear is a much-loved show and the first two seasons relied on some of the usual gendered emotional stereotypes. However, as season three unravels, it shows us that these gendered norms are massive generalisations.

It is not the expression of emotions that is the problem in professional kitchens, but it is the way these emotions are channelled to create a leadership model that is aren’t compassionate or collaborative. Women can handle the pressure and heat of a professional kitchen equally capably. The binary idea of resilient tough male chefs and emotional female chefs is just a myth.

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