***Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers for The Bear.***
“I’m gonna fix this place.”
That’s Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto’s promise in the first episode of The Bear. He’s cut his teeth as chef de cuisine in one of New York City’s finest restaurants. Now he’s back home in Chicago. His brother, Mikey, has committed suicide, leaving Carmy with his own restaurant: a dilapidated neighborhood staple called “The Original Beef.”
The show’s core tension quickly surfaces. Carmy and his culinary-school-trained sous chef Sydney look at the Original Beef and see potential. They’ve come equipped to draw that potential out with “French brigades” and online ordering systems. But the old guard—most notably Richie, the best friend of Carmy’s late brother—has no interest in change. The Original Beef has a system. It works. Don’t screw with it.
Throughout the show, this tension turns inward. It’s less about food and more about Carmy and Richie and their memories of Mikey. But the surface themes—the themes of food, creation, and community—deserve their own investigation. The Bear poses a universal question: How do you pursue excellence when your community refuses change—and can you do it without destroying that community?
Click, Click, Click
I’ve never worked in a kitchen. But this theme hits me in a personal place.
I grew up in a small nondenominational church in rural Pennsylvania. As soon as I could play a G-chord on the acoustic guitar, I joined the worship team. We played from chord charts. We sang “I Love Rock and Roll” with the words rewritten into “I Love Jesus Christ.” Comic sans lyrics floated over clips of Gandalf and the Rohirrim charging into Helm’s Deep.
While I was away at college, my church joined the planting network of a Chicago megachurch (Old MacDonald had a farm—let the reader understand). The change included a new name, an extra Sunday service, and a new worship leader, trained at that same megachurch.
I strolled into worship practice with my guitar in hand and absolutely no idea what was about to happen.
No more chord charts. We had to memorize songs. I had monitors in my ears and a digital metronome click-click-clicking through my head, so distracting I could barely keep rhythm.
Practice ran like a machine. Every week we sounded less like Pennsylvania and more like Hillsong.
But something felt off-key. Some nights, you could feel frustration roiling off the band, especially from those veterans like me, who remembered the laid-back practices, the joking, the anything-goes attitude that found us singing Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” as a worship song. Now tension simmered in the air when we stopped mid-practice because we lost the click, or when practice went past its scheduled end. Gradually, the old faces filtered out. New musicians filed in.
Some kind of excellence had come into this community—but the community did not survive.
Click, click, click.
So Many Clones
In episode two of The Bear, we glimpse Carmy’s New York experience.
Chefs work their stations like so many clones. Carmy chants out numbers and the chefs chant back, a robotic call and response, almost military. Nobody here is off click. Individuality has been scrubbed clean. The kitchen is a machine. Click, click, click.
This food impresses the world. But the environment nearly breaks Carmy, physically and mentally.
The Original Beef boasts nothing but individuality. The crew wears mismatched aprons. The menu features spaghetti with tomato sauce, which Carmy promptly discards.
Carmy and Sydney meet open defiance. Line cook Tina sabotages the potatoes. Carmy tells the baker Marcus how to prevent crumbly bread, and Marcus shoots back, “Don’t tell me how to do my job.”
We see the beauty of what Carmy and Sydney want to accomplish. But we also feel the community that has grown in this kitchen. And we sense Carmy’s system could crush it all, just like New York crushed him.
But that doesn’t happen.
Taste and See
The first victory comes when Marcus feels and tastes the bread he baked by Carmy’s method. It’s no longer dry. It’s soft and spongy. From that moment, Marcus calls Carmy “chef.”
Scripture invites us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). We can experience goodness tangibly, through things we can touch, taste, and see. In the words of William Carlos Williams: “No ideas but in things.”
Historically, Christians have referred to this “embodied goodness” as beauty. In his book Culture Care, artist Makoto Fujimura writes: “An encounter with beauty can show us what could be, and can make us rightly dissatisfied with the way things are.”
Marcus tastes and sees what could be. He can no longer be satisfied with dry, crumbly bread. He can no longer be content with baking the same chocolate cake every night. He will spend the rest of the show perfecting his own homespun donut recipe, born from a newfound sense of his own capacity—all stemming from one experience of “embodied goodness” in a loaf of bread.
Throughout The Bear, Carmy wins over the old crew, not through his culinary pedigree or his system, but through taste. He produces something excellent, delicious, and beautiful. And he shows the crew its capacity to do the same.
“We turn wheat into bread,” writes Fujimura, “and bread into community.”
“Without regularity there is no predictability, without predictability there is no surprise, and without surprise there can be no ‘irrepressible freshness,’” writes Wendell Berry.
He writes this about the poetry of William Carlos Williams, the world-class poet who turned his craft on the ordinary things his home, New Jersey. His poetic eye transformed the stuff of his place into beauty, like a chef creating something delicious and fresh from local ingredients.
When Carmy inherits the Beef, he inherits a kitchen without regularity, without predictability. But like a poet operating within form, Carmy introduces regularity. Suddenly, the Original Beef’s peculiarities can create surprise. They can produce “irrepressible freshness.”
Williams accomplishes this in poetry with what Berry dubs “creaturely rhythm.” It’s not free verse; It has structure. But it breaks from structure. It mimics the heartbeat of a living thing, a responsive organ—something that skips a beat when in love.
A creaturely rhythm is not click, click, click. It’s beat, stop, beat, beat. It can hold irregularity and place it in relief, like an earthy ingredient in the center of a clean white plate.
As Carmy changes the Original Beef, his employees fear becoming so many clones. Click, click, click. But Carmy’s structure doesn’t obliterate their idiosyncrasies. It helps them reach into their place and draw out potential, to take their ordinary sandwich and transform it into something that could compete on Chicago’s culinary stage while remaining itself.
Like Williams, Carmy brings his art to bear on home. His system doesn’t transform Chicago into New York. It makes Chicago the fullness of Chicago.
Beat, stop, beat, beat.
A Lover’s Eye
The event that nearly destroys the Original Beef has nothing to do with food.
Carmy and Sydney launch an online ordering system. But Sydney accidentally leaves pre-orders open. The printer spews orders like a fire hydrant. Panic floods the kitchen. Carmy screams strings of numbers, demanding impossible quantities of food.
Carmy throws Marcus’ donuts to the floor. Sydney quits on the spot. Carmy has become what the crew feared. But it’s not because of his recipes, his training, or even his French brigade.
To find the creaturely rhythms of a place requires attention. It takes a lover’s eye.
In The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection, Robert Farrar Capon explores this love. “Indeed,” he writes, “the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence or absence of a loving eye.”
The loving eye looks close enough to see beauty in peculiarity.
External concerns—money, reputation, numbers—inherently oppose this love. A loving eye highlights the peculiar; external concerns cater to the lowest common denominator. An external focus sacrifices anything for a proven method. The peculiarities of people and place become its first victims.
As the ordering system fails, all sense of care and love evacuates the work. “Fire everything right now!” Carmy demands.
Contrast this with the next episode, the quiet moments as Sydney prepares a meal in her apartment for her and Marcus. The camera follows her careful work as she tells him about the experiences that inspired her culinary journey—experiences such as “the best bacon in the world” from Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse. She remembers the relational nature of that moment, the chef conferring embodied goodness onto his guests.
In this vision, she finds her love: “I wanna cook for people and make them happy and give them the best bacon on Earth.”
It’s a vision of beauty creating community. It has nothing to do with reviews or reputation. It’s a vision even an amateur could accomplish, as Sydney does here, by gathering friends around the table at home.
“The world may or may not need another cookbook,” writes Capon, “but it needs all the lovers—amateurs—it can get.”
The world needs people who see the world with love, and therefore make it lovely.
Beat, Stop, Beat, Beat
The click track was not my enemy.
As I winced at the metronome in my ears, frustrated with my inability to keep rhythm, I didn’t know my rhythm would grow tighter than ever. As I memorized last-minute chords on Sunday morning, I didn’t know the untapped potential of my muscle memory. I didn’t know that, in a few years, I could play nearly our entire repertoire on demand. That growth required a leader. It required structure.
For some time, I assumed our team’s fractures stemmed from this structure—the long practices, the endless repetitions. I now wonder: Does structure itself actually cause such fractures? Or does it only do so when divorced from love?
We didn’t view our small-town quirks with a lover’s eye. Our peculiarities became obstacles. Our rhythms would give way to the placeless, inoffensive sound of countless churches across America—a sound that stems not from tradition or craft, but from its ability to put numbers in seats.
Nothing on this side of eternity is all good or all bad. We created things of which I remain proud. But in the midst of those triumphs, I would remember the faces who left. I would wonder what went wrong.
Let It Rip
In the show’s final moments, Carmy receives a letter left by his brother. The letter contains a spaghetti sauce recipe—the very dish Carmy discarded in episode one, chucking a can of tomatoes into the trash.
This tossing-the-can signaled a victory. Carmy refused to compromise his standards. He threw the old ways into the trash. But now Carmy returns to the spaghetti.
In the show’s greatest twist, Carmy opens one of the remaining tomato cans—and finds a wad of hundred-dollar bills inside.
The crew spends the afternoon opening cans and emptying tomatoes onto the floor, discovering hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mikey has saved this money for Carmy, so he could finally realize their dream restaurant: The Bear.
In the first episode, Carmy literally threw away the Beef’s peculiarities. In the final episode, he discovers the idiosyncrasies he discarded contained immense value—in this case, literally. In retrospect, the triumphal can-tossing of episode one takes on a twinge of regret. A sauce can containing several thousand dollars will spend half a century decomposing in an Illinois landfill.
The Original Beef’s most un-culinary quirk contained an actual hidden treasure—the key to Carmy’s fulfilled vision.
A lover’s eye finds value in the unexpected. It is not content to leave beauty hidden. Instead, it puts creaturely rhythms in relief. It refuses to force them into a crowd-pleasing shape. It invites the world to taste and see a new thing. Not the Original Beef, but the Bear. Perhaps such a love can even build community. We can start by digging that tomato can out of the trash.