I Cooked Like The Bear Cast & Here’s What I Learned

Yes, Chef!

In the first episode of The Bear Season 1, Carmy wakes up at the crack of dawn to prep, cook, and serve mouthwatering beef sandwiches to dozens of hungry patrons as he frantically works with a reluctant kitchen staff at his late brother’s Italian beef joint in Chicago. It’s loud. It’s sweaty. It’s chaotic. There’s the clattering of pots and pans. And there’s cursing. (A lot of it.) Clearly, The Bear’s high energy and delicious food left audiences anxious and hungry, and with Season 2 now streaming on Hulu, those emotions needed to be satisfied.

Like many, I inhaled The Bear as soon as its first season blew up last year. While I consider myself a casual viewer of food shows and a decent cook, I wondered what it would be like to cook the meals that were produced, even romanticized, in the TV show. Though I’d waitressed in the past and knew what a busy Friday night at a pizza place during Lent could look like, I was curious about the cadence of a kitchen making The Bear’s menu. Is it really that intense when there’s bigger meat at stake? Is making the different types of food in such a small place as impossible as it seems?

So I signed up for the Institute of Culinary Education’s aptly-titled class “The Bear - A Day at The Beef of Chicagoland” in their New York location. As it turns out, the show’s stars Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri took classes at ICE’s Los Angeles campus, where their two-week crash course included knife skills along with other cooking basics and learning the choreography of being in a professional kitchen.

In solidarity — perhaps tinged with obsession — I, too, cooked the food The Bear characters made. From The Beef’s Italian Beef Sandwich and Carmy’s Chicken Piccata to Mikey’s Family Meal Spaghetti Pomodoro and Marcus’ Chocolate Cake, Chef Roger Sitrin led a group of 12 of us to prep, cook, and serve these Season 1 delicacies in just under four hours.

Chef Roger assembles the beef sandwichInstitute of Culinary Education

And just like the kitchen crew in The Bear, I had a lot more to learn about the art of cooking. Ahead, eight valuable lessons I took away from class, including the secret to making the perfect pasta.

1. I’ve Been Chopping Herbs Wrong This Entire Time

Carmy’s Chicken Piccata from The Bear.Marina Watts / Institute of Culinary Education

If Carmy showed us anything, a delicate garnish can complete any dish. I used to roughly chop my herbs by pivoting my knife over a pile of them for the sake of making them smaller faster. However, Chef Sitrin showed an easier way to finely chop them while making Carmy’s Chicken Piccata, which will take my basil and parsley game to a Michelin-star level. He simply rolled them into a tight ball secured (carefully!) by your thumb, and sliced thinly. The extra few seconds of effort were worth it. Also, make sure you regularly sharpen your knives.

2. There Is A Perfect Way To Cook Pasta

Writer’s note: I was too excited to eat the spaghetti, and by the time I remembered to take a picture, it was too late. Here are the ingredients mise en place).Marina Watts / Institute of Culinary Education

As Richie famously yells at Carmy in the show, “Just make it easy and make the f*cking spaghetti!” when talking about the best-selling dish at the restaurant. Carmy remakes the spaghetti, but everyone disagrees with his method as he elevates an otherwise simple recipe with some butter and an onion cut in half. Well, there actually is a way to make it easy. There’s a ratio for cooking the perfect pasta: 10 grams of salt, 100 grams of pasta, and 1 liter of water. The golden rule ensures that the pasta doesn’t stick together, the water has enough salt in it, and the salt enhances the pasta’s flavor just enough. I already have it on a notecard hanging on my fridge.

3. Crushing Tomatoes By Hand Is Weirdly Therapeutic

When making the spaghetti sauce, the recipe called for crushing San Marzano tomatoes by hand. As a result, the sauce had a smoother texture. Crushing them by hand was oddly calming, and for a moment, I forgot I was in a busy kitchen during a dinner rush. And I can confirm that the small tomatoes indeed taste better, even though the cans weren’t stuffed with tomato-soaked cash. Michael’s spaghetti pomodoro is not an “underseasoned, oversauced mess,” as Carmy says in the show.

4. (Garlic) Size Matters

Jeremy Allen White in The Bear.

If you can count on one thing during The Bear’s chaotic family Christmas Eve dinner episode in Season 2, it’s that the smell of garlic was likely wafting throughout Carmy’s mom’s house. And whether you’re making a Seven Fishes feast or even just chicken piccata, the garlic must be present — but added correctly. That means avoiding using a press just because it’s easy and mincing it even further. The more you chop it up, the more flavor it will have. Using a press also poses the risk of overpowering a dish that might not need that much garlic. (We diced it for the chicken piccata for a stronger flavor, while we sliced it for the spaghetti sauce garlic to nail the right aromatic undertone.)

5. The Perfect Italian Beef Can’t Be Rushed

The Beef’s Italian Beef Sandwich from The Bear.Marina Watts / Institute of Culinary Education

Ah yes, the famous Chicagoland Beef. This was more sophisticated than simply roasting some beef and slicing it into strips. You might instinctively want to cook it hot and fast for the sake of getting it done faster. In The Bear, Carmy elevates the signature dish, where the meat is braised instead of roasted, which is how we made it.

We struggled not to overcook it, especially when the beef was braising at 350 degrees in a cast iron Dutch oven. We constantly had to check on it, careful not to overcook or pull it out too early. The recipe called for 15-20 minutes in the oven but felt way longer between taking the beef in and out for temperature checks. This part felt especially authentic — in the show, Carmy cooks the meat for an extra two hours in the morning. Patience was key, making it painstakingly harder than I thought it would be.

6. ...And Yet, Baking A Cake Took Longer Than Cooking The Beef

Frosting Marcus’ Chocolate CakeMarina Watts

I love cooking dinner. I don’t like baking. And this part of the class gave me a deeper appreciation for Marcus, the passionate pastry chef of The Bear who brings a sense of balance to the otherwise rambunctious Beef of Chicagoland. The meticulous nature of baking takes a great amount of patience, and I applaud Marcus for it.

Despite everything being measured out precisely, this managed to be the most time-consuming part of the class. There were many steps: mixing the batter, measuring it into pans, baking it, checking on it, and then setting it out to get to room temperature. Once cooled down, we had to put it into the freezer to cool it even further, then assemble and frost it with a spatula, and finally have the cake set in the fridge.

Amid the chaos of preparing three other dishes simultaneously, I also forgot to set a timer for the cake. Luckily, someone else had, and we averted disaster.

7. I’ve Also Been Cutting Cake Wrong This Entire Time

Marcus’ Chocolate Cake from The Bear.Marina Watts / Institute of Culinary Education

You know how precious knives are to the chefs of The Bear, and of course, that’s the secret to serving up that perfect slice of cake. Always use a proper chef’s knife for a clean slice, not a butter knife. Otherwise, it could fall apart and not look pretty for your Instagram Story. I may have learned that the hard way.

8. There Can Be Too Many Cooks In The Kitchen

People of different skill sets bustling around to gather ingredients, prep, cook, and plate them while sharing stovetops and ovens: It was a lot. It was also a bit disorienting to cook in a kitchen that wasn’t my own, despite this one being larger and better equipped. Everyone moving around at the same time was similar to the majority of The Bear’s first season, especially Episode 7. By the end of the evening, we sat down and had a family meal — one less tumultuous than Carmy’s Christmas Eve gathering in Season 2.

After the experience, I was more appreciative of the passion, hard work, and attention to detail that goes into putting together a meal. The cadence felt faster than what I was used to, my feet hurt at the end, and my apron was covered in frosting and red sauce, but the payoff was well worth it — and I’m still thinking of the Italian beef sandwiches.