“Burnt” isn’t the first time Bradley Cooper has played a chef. He starred on the short-lived Fox sitcom “Kitchen Confidential” — inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s exploits — some 10 years ago. This time, though, he’s taking on an even more volatile chef, with a sobered-up bad boyinspired by Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Marco Pierre White going for his third Michelin star.
I was actually a huge fan of “Kitchen Confidential.” In your mind is there any sort of connection between the two?
You know, it’s so different. The characters and the tone are so different. That was a half-hour single-camera comedy for Fox and this is a feature film. I never did feel a connection — I thought I would feel more, but I didn’t. When I got into the kitchen with this movie it just felt like a completely different thing. It was just so real.
With the amount of reality and scripted shows about chefs, do you expect a certain level of pre-existing knowledge from audiences these days?
It’s a very educated audience, and we were very aware of that. We were very conscious that we have to be as authentic as we can because people are going to be able to smell it out in two seconds. I’m not so sure how well-versed people are with the history of Michelin, but in terms of the back of the house being documented on the Food Network, whole channels dedicated to it, that’s all over the place.
How realistic was your kitchen set-up for this?
That’s a functioning kitchen. There were no cooking doubles. Every shot, that’s me doing it for better or for worse. All the other extras that you see in the kitchen, those were all chefs who work in Michelin-starred restaurants. None of them were actors aside from Omar, Ricardo, Sienna and Sam. The rest were all chefs. And we were making food. Each day we would come into work, there would be orders that we would have that I would call out, and there would be food in the refrigerator ready to cook those meals, and we had to cook them. And they just rolled the camera. Then we had Marcus Wareing, who is a two-Michelin-starred chef who created all the dishes, overseeing everything for its authenticity behind the monitor. So yeah, it really was unique in that way.
Doing multiple takes of eating scenes can be rough, but what do you do when you’re cooking things over and over again?
There’s a whole other kitchen behind our kitchen that were making all of the extra plates of food to be brought out. The minute it would be over, they would replenish everybody’s pan with the food, the steak, the fish so that I could plate it again.
So how do you think you fare as a chef?
The one thing I was aware of after doing this movie was how unequipped I am to be a chef. I thought I was much better than I was in terms of having worked in restaurants, having been a prep cook, having been a part of a brigade. When I was 18 I worked at a seafood and Italian restaurant in Summer’s Point, New Jersey, and cleaned 625 chickens one day. It was insane the stuff I had to do and be berated by chefs like that, but that pales in comparison to this level of perfection, this level of accuracy, this level of pursuit for perfection. And it’s real. Doing research with Gordon Ramsay — who opened up his whole world to me, really — him and Marcus, those were the guys who really showed me how it’s done.
Where do you think this reputation of chefs being so volatile comes from?
I think the rock star idea, the iconic chef, really originated with Marco Pierre White. There was a cookbook that came out called “White Heat” where the photographer had taken these badass photos of him, and then “Boiling Point” was a documentary the BBC did about Gordon Ramsay going after his third Michelin star, and it was the first time anyone had ever agreed to let cameras go behind the scenes in the kitchen of that level of a restaurant. And that’s where it all sort of started. You realized how intense and high-octane that world is.
You go to some extreme, dark places with this character. Is that a big draw, as an actor?
I always want to do things that I’m scared of, and I was definitely terrified to be able to see if I could pull off being a chef at that level. And then I didn’t really realize, actually, the emotional places that the character goes.
You also wrapped up your theatrical run on “The Elephant Man.” Any plans for more stage work?
Oh man, I don’t know. That was a year. (laughs) That was two different countries for a year. I think I need a little break.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter:@nedrick