Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Uma Thurman, Sam Keeley and Mario Batali – Burnt
Updated: Apr 4, 2020
Mario Batali, Daniel Brühl, Sienna Miller, Bradley Cooper, Uma Thurman and Sam Keeley at the New York press conference for Burnt. Photo ©2015 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Uma Thurman, Sam Keeley and Mario Batali
by Jay S. Jacobs
“In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.” That quote, made by pioneering celebrity chef Julia Child, has just become more prescient in the modern world. It is no longer merely a statement about France – this simple fact has gone world-wide.
Bradley Cooper knows this. He worked in kitchens in his younger years. Then, about a decade ago, he played a lightly fictionalized version of celeb chef Anthony Bourdain in the short-lived FOX series Kitchen Confidential, a somewhat light but deeply shadowed look at life behind the scenes with a fine restaurant’s kitchen staff.
His latest film, Burnt, returns Cooper to the kitchen. A somewhat more somber film, though in many ways very funny, the movie fillets the highs and lows of high cuisine. Cooper plays Adam Jones, a formerly beloved chef whose Paris bistro crashed and burned under the weight of his substance abuse, his womanizing, his self-doubt and his destructive streak.
A few years later, Jones tries to revive his career and open a chic London eatery, with the help of his eternally patient former partner, played by German actor Daniel Brühl. He slowly goes about rebuilding a perfect staff, hiring a single mother named Helene played by Sienna Miller, old friend David played by Sam Keeley and Michel, a former employee he later screwed over, who is played by Omar Sy.
As he scrambles to get a foothold in the competitive gourmet world of London, and perhaps to even get that evasive three-star review in the Michelin guide, the chef has to overcome his own personal demons, self-doubt and anger issues to find personal redemption.
Daniel Brühl, Sienna Miller, Bradley Cooper and Uma Thurman at the New York press conference for Burnt. Photo ©2015 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
We were recently invited to a New York press event in which the stars of Burnt talked food with celeb chef Mario Batali, who also worked as a technical advisor on the film.
Mario Batali: This is just like Sunday supper at my house. We hang out like this. We talk a little stuff about business, then we really get down to what we’re looking for. The question for the cast is what initially attracted any of you to this project. Do you actually like food?
Bradley Cooper: Very much.
Mario Batali: Excellent.
Sienna Miller: Yeah, it turned out that we were all pretty into food, by coincidence. We were around this incredible food as we were cooking it, and we were being fed it. That was a huge perk of doing this film.
Bradley Cooper: And actually the cast. The fact that it was always going to be conceived as an international cast was very alluring. We shot it in London. That was a really cool aspect. Very true to kitchens. There’s always tons of different languages going on. It was a really awesome aspect of it.
Mario Batali: Did you learn anything? In all of the intensive practice, was there anything that you learned as either a maitre d’, a chef, a cook, or a critic that you were surprised by or otherwise perplexed? Was it all so obvious, or are there nuances that you guys understood or started to capture?
Daniel Brühl: I was attracted by the film, because I opened a restaurant myself five years ago. Because my acting skills weren’t so good, my acting skills and my cooking skills were so bad that I decided to open a place. What I learned is that we are very far away from getting a Michelin star. The perfection, the level of quality in this restaurant where I was trained – Marcus Wareing’s restaurant in London – was just incredible.
Mario Batali: It’s fastidious. You did a very good job of capturing the exasperation with the talent, and yet your complete faith behind it which was evident without having spoken so often. It was really very real, because that’s how the front of the house treats a lot of us cooks in the back. Thinking, yeah, all right, have your little fit. Come on, come on. You did great that way. I was really interested in it.
Daniel Brühl: Thank you.
Mario Batali: So in terms of being the critic Uma, you walk in with a brilliant and supercilious wave that I imagine you go into a lot of places. When they bow down to you, you did such a great job. Was it hard to pretend to be a critic, or was it a natural thing? When you’re talking about food, she talked about food in the right way. It wasn’t just like “blah blah blah…”
Sienna Miller, Bradley Cooper and Uma Thurman at the New York press conference for Burnt. Photo ©2015 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
Uma Thurman: Well it was just a lot of fun. The cast was already assembled, to join everybody. I liked the exasperation with Twitter and Yelp. I thought that was funny, the idea that the irritation that the crowds… the popular demand… was over superseding opinion. This question is good for you actually, as a professional in the arena (to Mario) did we capture the…
Mario Batali: Well completely. The pressure is so on. As much as the social media forms a lot of the general opinion, it’s still the main critic of The New York Times, or The London Standard, or the papers that people read, that really give you your bona fides. You could have a lot of Yelps and people are like, “Yeah, whatever. Those are all your cousins and we know it.” That doesn’t diminish the value of Yelp to a consumer who is travelling around the world. But when you have four stars here, or three stars in Michelin you can… it’s like F-you to anyone who ever challenged you as a chef. You could say, “Look, here’s the paper of records saying exactly what matters to us.” That’s a really big part of our business. As the young chefs try to figure out how their part of the piece – Sam your character is a testament to just how hard they’ve got to work. How much apparent suffering they have to do, was that part of your situation?
Sam Keeley: Yeah, I guess so. I spent a lot of time in Marcus Wareing’s restaurant in the Berkeley and studied one chef in particular. Just watched him and learned his story, about where he came from. These guys are in it because they’re so passionate. They work insane hours, obviously as you know, and for very little money. They just want to get it right. They love the food and the whole thing behind it. I studied this one guy, Jake, who was younger than me, but was Marcus’ right hand man. He would run the kitchen when Marcus wasn’t around. It was fascinating to see.
Bradley Cooper: Oh yeah, I remember that kid.
Sam Keeley: He was a really quiet kid, but when he switched it on he was just this animal in the kitchen. They’re all covered in burns and slash marks from knives.
Mario Batali: I still have them, even now. Every now and then, something tricky can happen. In the screaming and passionate scenes that Bradley did so well, did it feel like you were being yelled at, guys?
Sam Keeley: Well, yeah.
Mario Batali: Sienna mostly, with that embarrassing turbo situation? I mean you guys are actors, so you know what’s going on, but how did that capture anything in the Wareing kitchen? I imagine he’s a little calmer, than maybe our script led everyone to believe. Is that true?
Sienna Miller: He probably has his moments, but it has leveled out. I think he can definitely go there.
Mario Batali: I think what happens as chefs mature, they realize that yelling is not the most effective way to change the behavior of the people that are working with you. In fact, a quiet lecture delivered sotto voce, yet within earshot of the people that you work with, might shame you more quickly. When I used to yell at someone, I would always have to go back and apologize because I felt like an idiot. Then, of course, I’ve diminished everything I just yelled about into a whimpering little apology and say, “Hey, you’re doing okay anyway.” So effectively the yelling was such a crucial part of it. Bradley, you felt pretty jacked up about it because you did the thrill pretty well on that. Did you talk to Marco Pierre White at all about that?
Bradley Cooper at the New York press conference for Burnt. Photo ©2015 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.
Bradley Cooper: I did yeah. And Marcus and Clare Smyth at Hospital Road and Gordon Ramsey.
Mario Batali: Who is actually the PhD student of all PhD students of yelling chefs right?
Bradley Cooper: But what’s so interesting is I just love the family of it all. You worked under Marco, so did Gordon and so did Marcus. I think Marco – and he will say it openly – has changed a lot over the years. Has calmed down a lot. But, no, there’s tons of stories, which you know more than anybody. I think the movie was actually pretty tame.
Mario Batali: Well, compared to Marco’s worst days, yes. But I think it captured probably more of the 21st century vibe right. I mean that was 1985 and Marco would literally take scissors and cut guys chef coats up while they were on them, like: “You don’t deserve this!” Snip, snip, snip. What crazed mind comes up with this way of torturing people. It’s such a cruel thing. Yet the pressure and the intensity when the Michelin guy is in there. I think, without wrecking the movie, there’s a scene where there is some sabotage that is so well done and so well thought out that it’s just like: wow that’s a pay off that I thought was great.
Bradley Cooper: Also, I always thought that how erratic that the Adam character becomes into the kitchen, it’s all geared towards himself. It’s all based in self loathing, that he screwed it up.
Mario Batali: Well, right. That’s fundamentally why chefs yell, because they realize they did not train their staff properly. The reason they’re mad is because they should’ve known to train them for the inevitable fact that at 7:30 you have to move much faster than you do at 5;30. You have to accept a window of acceptable variation. If you don’t do that, you’re mad at them. But they’re just 17-year-old kids. They’re 22-year-old kids. You have F-ed up. You feel so bad about it you’re lashing at everybody that you can. How was the food on set?
Bradley Cooper: Unbelievable.
Mario Batali: Like you ate their real food?
Bradley Cooper: We were cooking. In the way that they set it up, Marcus created the dishes. Then we would have recipes, these were all set by the commis and then all of the other cooks were actually…
Mario Batali: Commis are not Soviets. They’re the lesser level of chefs.
Bradley Cooper: All the other cooks, they were not extra actors. They were cooks, people that work in Michelin star restaurants around London. We were cooking the food, we were eating the food, too. We were testing it constantly. Then we would actually in between takes eat a lot of the meat. Ricardo was just doing brilliant work in the grill.
Sam Keeley: (jokes) Because the catering wasn’t that good.
Mario Batali: They are craft services all over the world but they’re not three-star Michelin restaurants, right? Did anybody take home any recipes that they’re going to cook at their house now?
Sienna Miller at the New York press conference for Burnt. Photo ©2015 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.
Sienna Miller: Yes, turbot. (laughs) I have eaten much more turbot than I ever thought I would, and can fillet it which is exciting! I can buy a whole one and take it home. That’s a good new skill. Also I can make pasta, so I’ve been making homemade pasta.
Mario Batali: You did an amazing scene where you were rolling it out with such aplomb. She knows how to do it.
Bradley Cooper: Yeah, she really did it. She really did that in the scene. That was fantastic. You have no idea how hard that is to act, number one, but then make pasta while you’re acting.
Mario Batali: Because at that point she wasn’t acting. She was just making the pasta.
Sienna Miller: (in a hippie voice) I was just being, man…
Bradley Cooper: (laughs) That was just the wonderful thing for all of us… that we actually got to do the work. For an actor that’s always the easiest thing, if you’re actually doing it.
Mario Batali: When the chefs that were actually helping you execute the mise en place, were they the same ones every day or were they…?
Bradley Cooper: Same ones.
Mario Batali: So they didn’t have a job for a month? They were only with you?
Bradley Cooper: That’s right. That’s right. It felt like a real brigade.
Mario Batali: That’s exactly what a real kitchen feels like.
Bradley Cooper: Everybody got to know each other. For example, when we had that scene when Adam berates everybody, you know they’re all there and it really was good…
Mario Batali: And they’re like, “Yes. Somebody else is taking it right now.”
Bradley Cooper: Silently, though…
Mario Batali: When that stuff goes on, that’s all you’re really thinking about. You’re just trying to get as close to the corner and as away from the center of attention as possible.
Bradley Cooper: Of course.
Mario Batali: Because obviously when someone makes a mistake, the whole kitchen pays for it. How much awareness do you now have in a dining experience when you’re sitting at a restaurant table? Here’s what happens in my family. We’ll finish our appetizers, and we’ll be done and for five minutes they’ll watch us. Then a busboy will come up surreptitiously, quietly, just getting ready to clear the table. For some reason my wife or my son picks a little something off the plate. The whole team has to back out again, because you can’t clear the table while they’re still eating. Do you ever notice anything about that in restaurants when you’re going around?
Sienna Miller: The thing I heard that was the most extraordinary thing was that if you’re at a table of people, five of you. You’ve ordered different things. Your main courses are ready and they’re on their paths, if someone from that table stands up to go to the bathroom and it takes more than two minutes every dish has to be thrown away. So I just know that if I’m at a dinner table and there are people, I’m like if we’re waiting you do not leave the table. You just stay there.
Mario Batali: Right. In New York now you have to go like 400 yards away from the restaurant if you want to have a cigarette. It could be a month before they come back and you’re waiting for the entrées. A delicate piece of fish can’t hold on two minutes. Certainly a ravioli can’t either. You’ve got to throw it out and restart it.
Bradley Cooper: I never thought about the smoking thing. You’re right. That’s got to be a nightmare.
Mario Batali: They go so far away, because we make them go so far away. Like: “Yes, you have to go to Washington Square Park – the very center. You can’t possibly smoke in front of this. My guests are very upset with you.” Now what do you think about when you have to wait a few more minutes at a reservation…? Uma? You guys never wait for reservations.
Uma Thurman at the New York press conference for Burnt. Photo ©2015 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.
Uma Thurman: Not with you, Mario.
Mario Batali: But is there any sympathy toward the situation? You guys have seen it now from a very different way. I would say that among the people at this table, all of you at any of my restaurants have always been incredibly respectful and most delightful, so you’re welcome back at any time.
Bradley Cooper: Thank you.
Mario Batali: But there are people that throw a little fit. They tend not to be the famous people. They tend to be the entitled people. Have you ever seen anything like that at a restaurant? Will you ever in the restaurant’s defense come up to them and say, (clicks tongue) “Please?”
Sienna Miller: It’d be weird to get involved at that point, with a complete stranger. But they definitely get a bad look.
Mario Batali: Right. That’s good, that’s good enough.
Bradley Cooper: It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I remember when I was a kid being at a seafood restaurant. The guy actually did it to me. I was a prep cook. He asked me what I put in the crab cakes. I didn’t understand what he was saying. He really wanted me to say as many ingredients as possible, to tell me that my crab cakes weren’t well made, because the more you put in them, the worse it is.
Mario Batali: Right. Anything but crab is always a mistake.
Bradley Cooper: And I thought what an asshole….
Mario Batali: He didn’t trip you up, though.
Bradley Cooper: No. I didn’t really answer him. Then he just explained how smart he was about food.
Mario Batali: That’s something about New York and London, I imagine.
Bradley Cooper: No, this was Somers Point, New Jersey.
Mario Batali at the New York press conference for Burnt. Photo ©2015 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.
Mario Batali: Obviously a training ground for New Yorkers. Where they learn how to be New Yorkers. Let’s go down and embarrass the busboy at the crab place first and see how it feels. Oh yeah, I did. Great, let’s go get on the train and be tough to somebody. Now we’re in Manhattan, here we go. As you go out to eat at the fancy Michelin star restaurants, a lot of the trait is in the tasting menu. And the Michelin critics’ alleged behavior, which you had to be able to figure out as well as you could in the movie. Are you more prone to ordering tasting menus or a la carte now?
All: Tasting menus.
Mario Batali: And why is that?
Sienna Miller: The experience. You want the whole experience. If you don’t have the time… obviously, it depends. But if you’re going to go to a restaurant that has that option, you’ve gone to a really great place. You might as well commit.
Bradley Cooper: It would be like going to the theater and saying I don’t want to see Hamilton. I’d like to see Kinky Boots, please.
Mario Batali: When you’re there…
Bradley Cooper: That’s what I’m saying. When you’re there, you’re like actually tonight…
Mario Batali: Can I skip the second half?
Bradley Cooper: Just a couple of monologues by Noel Coward will be good. I don’t know where Hamilton and Kinky Boots came from. (laughs) That’s so random.
Mario Batali: They’re both fantastic musicals here in New York! Bradley’s auditioning for one of those two apparently. Alright so that’s enough of my questions, let’s hear what you guys have to ask…
Brad you do an amazing job of conveying your character’s complex inner life. How did you relate to him personally? What did you draw inside of you to portray that?
Bradley Cooper: I had a tremendous amount of research. Being able to speak with people in that world. Then, just the script was fantastic. If I had to relate to anything, that idea of the trying to have a goal that you’re setting out to do. An obsession to do the best you can at that, I can definitely relate to that. More than any other character I’ve played, I really saw how different I was from this guy. He lost the joy in what he did. That’s a hell of a thing to lose, as I’m sure you concur, because food is so joyful. If you’ve lost joy in cooking, then wow you are lost. That’s where he is for so much of the movie. Then characters like Helene really re-inject him with the thing that he lost back in Paris.
Mario Batali: I have one question before the rest. My wife wants to know. She knows you didn’t shuck a million oysters, but did you shuck ten of those oysters?
Bradley Cooper: Oh, probably sixty.
Mario Batali: She said “I saw a lot of arms without any bodies, so I was assuming that it was a prep cook.”
Bradley Cooper: No, it was me. There was no double in the whole movie. In fact, they did this thing where the guy loosened about ten of them in the beginning, but we got through them in like half a take. So I was like oh. Then I had this stupid idea that I would bring the bag out which wasn’t pre…
Mario Batali: It looked good though.
Bradley Cooper: No, it was good, but that was the first day of shooting. As you know, I have shucked oysters when I was a prep cook. If you’re ever going to slice your hands, it’s going to be while shucking an oyster. I really thought, I even said to John, I said, “Bro just to let you know if this goes south. You better find a lot of other stuff to shoot.”
Sienna Miller and Bradley Cooper at the New York press conference for Burnt. Photo ©2015 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
With the food aside, this is a film on many levels of recovery and also reinvention. Talk about how you saw your character. Particularly Mr. Cooper, with the recovery, it was not just from substance abuse. It was from a lot of other things too.
Bradley Cooper: In terms of what I was just commenting on before, I think that we find this guy… he’s white knuckling it. He pitches to Tony how he has all the answers and he knows exactly what he’s going to do. But he has absolutely no clue really, because he’s the same guy he was, just minus all the things he did to inoculate himself from his emotions. You’re watching this guy actually spiral even further and further down in the movie, the way that I saw it.
Sienna Miller: For me, I really liked the humanity of this character and how honest it was. She is a single mother. She is doing her best. She’s passionate about cooking, but she’s juggling a lot of balls. Everything seems to be compromised at a certain point. She’s trying her best. I wanted it to be a very real person. I didn’t want to wear makeup or portray it in any inauthentic way possible. The women that I’ve met that work in these kitchens, it’s a very male dominated environment. They have to be really tough and strong. She’s got depth and she’s got pain and it resonated.
What was it like to have to say “yes chef” when everything inside you wanted to “go fuck yourself?”
Sienna Miller: That’s the nature of being in a kitchen, I think. A lesson anyone with the head chef is going to experience. Oui, chef.
I thought the movie was very much like a sports film in another way. It has the arc of the comeback story, the competition. Did any of you feel the same way? Did you get passionately into that competition?
Bradley Cooper: It’s funny you say that. In no way would I ever compare it to Hoosiers, even though that movie is unbelievable. But we were talking about how I loved when Gene Hackman moved to this town living in Barbara Hershey’s house and helping her. He walks out when she’s tilling the field at one point in the middle of winter, and just realizes that he is just so not in his element. Where was he before? We talked about that specific aspect of the character, because that character is a little similar to Adam Jones, in a way with his arc. I really love the idea of: What does he do at night? Adam Jones. Because he’s not sleeping with women. He’s not doing drugs. Well, he’s definitely not getting 12 hours of sleep, either. What does he do? That’s sort of what Hackman does in that house. We had him walking around London, looking in shops, constantly obsessed. What made me think of that was Hoosiers. The Reece character, you have this nemesis, this other guy who’s competing and hiding just how competitive one is. But then we see that little of slice of his personal life. He’s completely destroying his restaurant, just because of a decent review that his old partner got.
There’s a beautiful connection between creating a meal and creating a relationship, also sense memories when you eat specific meals. What are your favorite meals that might draw a sense memory out for you?
Sienna Miller: It’s so hard. We’ve obviously been answering a lot of food questions. There are so many different types of food, but for me there’s something really comforting about my mum’s roasted chicken.
Daniel Brühl at the New York press conference for Burnt. Photo ©2015 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.
Daniel Brühl: Yesterday I had a fried black rice. I’m half Spanish, my mother’s from Spain. My mom does that a lot, too. It was spectacular at a restaurant called Estela. Boy, crispy fried black rice is just… (mimes ecstacy)
Sam Keeley: |A classic Sunday roast is always going to have something that reminds you of home and comfort and being a child, I guess, which is lovely.
Bradley Cooper: The thing about food is if you throw out any food I’ll tell you what the memory is. That’s the great thing. It really is true.
Mario Batali: Sunday gravy.
Bradley Cooper: Oh yeah, Grandmother. Actually pulling it out of the freezer. Freezing my hand because it was so cold, because we used to freeze the gravy for the week and make it on Sunday, then we just stacked the freezer with it.
Sienna Miller: That’s the thing about food though, it’s just so much more than eating for me. I think for anyone who appreciates it and lives to eat, which somehow all of us pretty much do, but the idea of everybody getting together around food. What that does for relationships and friendships. It’s like the most joyful thing about being alive, so it’s a difficult question to answer because of that.
Mario Batali: A family meal share was probably the most crystallized moment when you were finally on the team. That was when everyone realized, oh yes he’s going to have dinner with us. There was a satisfaction on the whole team, very much like when you have dinner with your family and everyone all of a sudden shows up. Oh wow, we’re all here. This is something really remarkable. Nutrition becomes more than just comestible. It becomes emotional. There’s something to that shared experience. Particularly when you go through a dinner service and work so hard together. With people who you don’t even have to love every day, but you need them then. At the end, you can look back at each other and say: “Yeah, we did it.”
Bradley Cooper: Do you do that in your restaurants?
Mario Batali: Yeah, always.
Bradley Cooper: Because I’ve never had that experience. We never had the family meal.
Mario Batali: In all of our restaurants because we’re lunch and dinner, we have breakfast, lunch and dinner family meals. You can just stop in. The late dinner family meal is like the 12:30 leftover bits of steak put in the pasta with everything. That’s the best one.