Before The Bear, chef Courtney Storer couldn’t watch a lot of TV shows or movies that took place in the kitchen.
“The chef community is so special and complicated, and I think people haven’t done a show about chefs because of that,” Storer, who’s served as the culinary director for LA mainstays like Jon + Vinny’s, tells UPROXX. “It’s hard to really get it right. It’s hard to really understand.” But, when her brother Christopher Storer, decided to write a half-hour drama about a Chicago beef shop on the verge of bankruptcy, weighted down with family secrets and recent tragedy, she decided to lend her expertise to the writer’s room.
After all, it was about time someone got back of house life right.
The result? An 8-episode manic fever dream that feels like a cross between Hell’s Kitchen and a Safdie brother’s movie, one bursting with tension, set to shouted insults, and covered in grease, cracked yolk, and grime. The masses love it, even members of Storer’s discerning chef community. “One of the things I wanted to share was how vulnerable cooking feels, no matter where you are, in what position,” Storer explains. “There was pressure. If we do this, how do we make it authentic?”
Some of the answer to that question lies in the pacing, the storytelling, and the brilliant performances from the show’s cast, which includes Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and break-out star Ayo Edebiri. But more of it can be found in the smaller details — the deli cups, the sharpie labels, and, especially, the lingo. Plenty of kitchen-specific terms are hurled throughout each dizzying episode but the show never waits for fans to catch up.
Just like in a real kitchen, you learn, you adapt, or you die.
Thankfully, Storer was kind enough to give us a run-down of the basic chef-speak one needs to know, especially if The Bear has subconsciously infiltrated their vocabulary. (We know you’ve said “yes chef” at least once after watching.) Below, Storer breaks down some key terms, what they mean, and how to convincingly use them, even if you aren’t a chef de cuisine.
Chef – If you’ve started calling everyone in your life “chef,” Storer wants you to know that’s okay. It’s a sign of respect amongst cooks in the kitchen but even if you’re not on the line, you can use it. As long as you don’t mind some strange stares from people who haven’t watched The Bear yet.
“When I was coming up in restaurants, ‘chef’ was specific to the chef in the restaurant, period,” Storer says. “I think things have changed. ‘Yes, chef,’ it’s a kind of respect to all parties that are contributing towards one team, one dream, the end vision, which is preparing good food. And I always dug that because, first of all, it’s non-binary. ‘Chef’ is not referring to one gender over the other, so that’s helpful. I encourage it.”
Family — Family meal, like the one Carmy and the crew host before the day’s rush, can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner depending on the structure of the restaurant. It’s usually made from food that would otherwise go to waste – like the meatballs that were a bit overcooked the day before or the extra chicken cutlets someone accidentally ordered.
“It’s the staff feeding the staff, chefs feeding the chefs,” Storer explains. “In a restaurant, you’re not taking a lunch break. You really don’t have time, but you’re around the most delicious food.”
When Carmy tells Sydney to make family meal with a “meat and three” that’s a common formula – a way to serve up a well-rounded meal of protein, veggies, and carbs that energizes the kitchen for its next shift. It can also be a trial run for a new chef. “When you’re a stagiaire or you’re staging for a restaurant, sometimes they’ll have you make an item on family meal because it’s kind of like a test. It’s kind of a way of a chef saying, ‘Hey, do you know how to make a salad dressing?’” Storer says. “In France, my first day on the job they were like, ‘Make family meal,’ and I was terrified. I couldn’t read any of the modes on the oven. I was like a cat in a bathtub. I did not know what was going on. I didn’t have muscle memory. I didn’t know how to move in that space yet. I’ll never forget, I short-circuited the oven. So everyone ate cold roasted carrots, literally carrots that were raw with olive oil and spices on them.”
Corner / Behind – In case you couldn’t tell from The Bear, kitchens are loud. And dangerous. And intense. There are fires going, burners turned up to the max, and sharp objects at every turn. Kitchen sonar is a must, knowing where other chefs are so that the rhythm of the line isn’t thrown off.
“It’s like playing a sport, like soccer,” Storer says. “When you’re passing the ball you say, ‘Open. Here.’ ‘Corner, behind, hot, sharp,’ that’s really your sensory that’s coaching you not to move or turn around too quickly and burn yourself.”
Your Pass – Once Sydney graduates from stagier to a full-time chef at The Beef, Carmen gives her the reigns while he manages the organizational needs of the restaurant that have been neglected for years because of his brother’s addiction. Eventually, he tells Sydney “your pass,” which means he’s letting her run the kitchen for the day.
“Sometimes, when there’s a chef and a sous chef, hierarchy-wise, the chef is always calling the tickets, but he’s kind of relinquishing that control,” Storer explains. “He’s saying, ‘You’re in control. It’s your pass.’ So that means she’s in charge of the rhythm of the tickets. She’s calling them, she’s expo-ing the service, which means all the food going out is in her control. So when you go out at a restaurant and you see the chef and they’re crossing off the tickets and they’re calling to the kitchen, they’re essentially the conductor. If you ever go out to a restaurant and you’re like, ‘Whoa, our food is coming out so fast,’ or it’s perfectly balanced and it’s like a dance. It’s like, you get your salad, then your pasta comes, then your steak, and it feels like this beautiful rhythm, that’s an expediter who’s really good at managing their cooks.”
Heard — Heard is simply a truncated version of, ‘Yes, chef,’ and it’s not used in all kitchens. “So some chefs hate heard,” Storer says. “I’ve been in kitchens where they’re like, ‘Do not say heard. It’s too casual.’ I feel like it shortens the memory that I’m trying to give. I’m calling out something so you lock it into your brain. Sometimes you’ve got too much going on in your brain to give a full call back. So like, ‘We’re low on olive oil, heard.’ That’s fine. But if I’m leading a kitchen, I always like to hear the cook say it back because then they’re going to remember it.”
Hands – This means there’s food at the pass – or the expediting station – and it’s ready to go out. “It’s usually a call to the front of house to help.”
Fire – A dish is ready to be cooked. “When you have a ticket that comes in, you say, ‘Order in, three steak, medium rare.’ The chef, they’ll say, ‘Three steak, medium rare, heard chef.’ They grab their steaks out and they mark them. They start to get them to room temperature. Then that means when the chef is ready to call that ticket for those steaks to be made, he’ll say, ‘Order, fire, three steaks,’” Storer explains. “That means those three steaks you pulled out 10 minutes ago, you can put them on the grill and you can cook them.”
Staging – Pronounce stah-ging, this is what Sydney does when she first arrives at The Beef. Think of staging as an internship – sometimes paid, sometimes not. It’s done by chefs either looking for a job or wanting to see how other kitchens cook. “Being in New York right now, I could go to a lot of restaurants and say, ‘Hey, I want to stage for the day. I’m not looking for a job, but can I come in and cook with you guys for the day?’ Storer says. “I would be helping them and also getting a vibe for what kind of food they make, what kind of recipes. When you’re a chef, staging is super important, because you obviously want the job, but you’re also seeing, is this kitchen a place that I want to work in?”
Deli – This is less of a term and more of an observation. In almost every episode, Carmy can be seen drinking water from a clear, plastic Tupperware container. If you’ve wondered why, Storer has the answer. “That was me!” she says. “Yes, it’s a real thing. Those storage containers are called delis. They’re just 32 ounce, 16 ounce or eight ounce recyclable plastic cups with lids. And oftentimes chefs will just fill them with ice water. And then you can put that in your little refrigerator for service and keep it cold all night, drink from it — which is great because you need to hydrate. But it’s usually what chefs will use. You can’t have glass on the line or coffee cups. Richie with the coffee cup is very funny because it also shows how comfortable he is in that space. But that wouldn’t fly with a lot of restaurants. You need to have things in a deli, even if it’s coffee, you drink from a deli.”
Pars All Day – The count of a particular item – think chicken, steak, fish – for the day. “It’s just like, how many do you have? We put it in and that’s it,” Storer says. “So that scene in episode seven, when they’re freaking out? That has happened to me so many times. It’s super stressful. It causes chaos. You’re overselling on food, the customers are going to be pissed, the back of house is pissed, the front of house, everyone’s just mad.”
Mise en Place – A French term that can also be shortened to “mise.” “It’s like you’re prepped for the day, ready to go for service.”
In The Weeds – When a cook is in trouble. “When a cook might be going down like a plane crashing. It just means they’re overwhelmed.”
Dragging – A chef is taking too long to prepare a dish. “If the grill cook is dragging, it means your steaks are taking too long. You’re dragging, you’re falling behind.”
Line Check – A check of everyone’s station that’s done multiple times throughout a shift. “Line checks make sure all of your mise en place is good. You see Sydney’s character tasting the mashed potatoes – that’s an important part of the job as the chef, to taste the food. You can’t just do one and done. Tasting food is a living, breathing thing every single day. Constantly tasting, and salt, salt, salt.
86 – It can mean to scrap a plate or that the kitchen is out of something. “We just sold the last one, we’re out. It’s usually a call to the front of house so they can put it in the system so the servers know to stop selling it.”