Let's Pick Apart Carmy's Cookbooks in The Bear!
Reading way too much into a fictional chef's reading.
Howdy cookbook fans!
The time has finally come. It is time to talk about Carmy’s cookbooks on the Hulu show The Bear.
I am not the first to do so. Eater SF has done an accounting of the books that appeared on the series, and even talked to Ken Concepcion of LA cookbook shop Now Serving for some analysis. YES this show came out months ago and NO this is not the timeliest of posts. I hope you’ll forgive me; I have such a love/hate relationship with this show (which is very similar to how I felt about, uh, cooking in restaurants). It stresses me out. (I literally watched the one take bad shift episode through my fingers.)
But if you thought a television show was going to show a character’s entire cookbook collection and I was not going to say anything about it, you don’t know me very well. This is a RARE opportunity. So! Acknowledging that this collection of books was likely a combination of character development and books that were easily accessible on the day this was shot, let’s read waaaaaay too much into this particular stack of books, shall we?
Carmy reads these books. One thing we know for sure about his past is that he moves. A lot. He has worked in restaurants on opposite sides of the US and the Atlantic. So there are two possibilities here: one, that it was worth it to him to move all these books with him every time. Or two, and more likely, that they were in storage in Chicago that whole time and he has recently gotten them back out. Either way, these are not decorative. (As the beat-up spines can attest.)
Carmy definitely worked in London. We know that he cooked at Noma (Copenhagen), The French Laundry (Napa), and Eleven Madison Park (NYC). To that list I would add a London stint. The British cookbooks he has aren’t necessarily out of the ordinary for a serious collector, or a bookworm of a chef—books like Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating and Sam & Sam Clark’s Moro: The Cookbook, for example, are cult favorites that plenty of people have in their collections without having worked in London restaurants. The sheer number of UK books here, though, is significant, and there is more London representation here than, say, New York. But what really cinches it for me is Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England. It’s the only history book I clock (except for maybe Oaxaca al Gusto), and sounds like required reading for a guy staging at a Heston Blumenthal spot. Change my mind dot meme!
Books I Am Guessing Carmy Owns Because He Either Worked/Staged at These Places or Knew People Who Did
A New Napa Cuisine by Christopher Kostow
NOPI by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully
Rich Table by Sarah Rich and Evan Rich with Carolyn Alburger.
Hartwood by Eric Werner and Mya Henry with Oliver Strand.(Although I don’t think he personally worked there, I think that and Oaxaca al Gusto are there because he went to Mexico with Rene Redzepi. But perhaps a friend did.)
SPQR by Shelley Lindgren and Matthew Accarrino with Kate Leahy.
That book front and center is from Michigan-based restaurant group Mainstreet Ventures. Maybe an old summer job?
Books I Do Not Think He Owns Because He Worked at These Places
All the Chez Panisse books. I can’t see Mister Tweezers McFussbudget in that particular kitchen.
I also don’t think he worked for Andrew Carmellini despite the copy of Urban Italian.
I could go either way on the Tartine books and Polpo, but I could see him having those without a personal connection to those places.
Books I Don’t Really Think Carmy Would Own, Sorry: I could see one or two memoirs, but that’s a lot of memoirs…and they are mostly by food writers? Bourdain sure, Charlie Trotter definitely for some who grew up in Chicago, but… Ed Levine? Judith Jones? Mrm. I also don’t really see him as a big Julia Child guy, so that bio feels out of place to me.
Individual Title Notes: Loved seeing Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course here, and Goose Fat and Garlic by Jeanne Strang. Surprised to see The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual; if Carmy’s gonna do Italian-American I would assume he’d have at least a tiny chip on his shoulder about New York Italian-American. (I do love that book, though.) Also hi Ama! Glad to see some Tex-Mex in the mix. On that note, I ought to say hi, Franklin Barbecue, as well.
Wait where is…? Chicago? Where are the Chicago books?! I get that part of his whole deal is trying to escape Chicago and become someone else, but I still think he’d have a Trotter book (especially with the memoir there!) and Alinea and maybe the Publican book. There aren’t a ton of technical books here, but maybe they’re at the restaurant. He’d probably have more of the Copenhagen books, Relae at minimum. (Unless… he only worked at Noma Mexico and not Noma proper? I don’t remember if they said Copenhagen or not.) I would bet my entire career on the fact that IRL Carmy would have at least one Joe Beef book, and maybe Au Pied du Cochon, too. Finally, as Concepcion notes over at Eater SF, these stacks are prettttttty white.
A Handful of Book Recs from Me to Carmy, in No Particular Order
The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz
Elements of Taste by Gray Kunz and Peter Kaminsky
Peppers of the Americas by Maricel Presilla
The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland
Soul by Todd Richards
Happy in the Kitchen by Michel Richard
Alpine Cooking by Meredith Erickson
Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli
The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo
Literally any cookbook from a Chicago restaurant.
Bonus Round: Let’s Talk About the Books in Carmy’s Dream Kitchen
The shot in which we see the big main stack comes immediately after a dream sequence in which Carmy is hosting a deranged dreamscape cooking show. Here, too, are cookbooks! But they’re very different from the pile Carmy wakes up to. I spy:
Two editions of The Joy of Cooking, which does seem like a Carmy move TBH
The Frugal Gourmet by Jeff Smith (haven’t heard that name in a minute)
Best Recipes from the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars by Ceil Dyer (!! amazing)
UPDATE! Readers have clocked The Great Big Cookie Book by Hilaire Walden, which tracks, and Cooking the Nouvelle Cusine in America by Michele Urvater, which...doesn't quite.
In other words…books real Carmy wouldn’t own. Books for home cooks, books that take short cuts, books from TV hosts, and Julia Child. (I mean, if you buy my theory he’s not a Julia Child guy, anyway.)
Okay that is enough thinking about the cookbook collection of fictional chef Carmen Berzatto from Hulu’s The Bear. If you can pick out any additional cookbooks, please drop em in the comments. (Reminder, only paid subscribers can comment!)
And Carmy, if you need a co-author for your cookbook, call me.
Everyone loves the fish cookbook! But especially chefs.
I adore the kitchen his dream TV show takes place in. (Which, if you know me IRL, is largely because…it’s the same colors as my kitchen. Ha!)
Thanks Hilary Bown!
Thanks Charles Vestal!
I like the idea that maybe some of the books were gifts from people that "know you're a chef" so... cookbooks at Christmas... but never hit the mark in the actual book they pick
I was very surprised to see a well-thumbed copy of Tom Park Bowles' The year of Eating Dangerously in the stack