THERE'S A SCENE in Burnt where star chef who lost everything but is making a comeback Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is sitting in a London Burger King, presumptuously blowing the mind of up-and-coming lady chef Helene (Sienna Miller) by telling her the problem with fast food: consistency.
It's not that it’s cheaply made crap—as Helene correctly points out—but rather that a customer comes to know what to expect, and thus loses interest. Great cooking, Jones mansplains, leaves people wanting to know more. Too bad the filmmakers didn’t take this advice when it came to Burnt, a frozen, pre-packaged, totally forgettable dramedy.
Here’s one you’ve never heard before: Jones is a former diva, drug addict, Michelin-starred chef who lost everything to drugs and other bad behavior. As the movie opens, he finishes shucking his one-millionth oyster (REALLY?!) in New Orleans, slurping his last one before walking out the door forever.
Flash to London and a montage of the reformed addict assembling an Ocean’s 11-style cooking crew to reclaim his glory and earn another Michelin star. Uma Thurman appears for a few moments as a lesbian food critic—who nonetheless slept with leather-jacket sexy Jones back in the day (sigh)—to make the most bizarre food orgasm face committed to film.
BUT WAIT. Jones’ relaunch is a disaster, and after his time in oyster exile, his techniques (OMG a frying pan?!) are now antiquated. So Helene brings in a sous vide machine and director John Wells inserts a beautifully-shot food montage, and now he’s a success again! Food-and-movie clichés blend together: Jones compares food to sex; he throws plates; he and Helene make out; the chef is threatened by Parisian baddies to whom he owes money from the old days. There’s betrayal, the potential that Jones won’t get his Michelin star, a dramatic low point… but we all know how it ends.
This Gordan Ramsey yelling (“IT’S RAWWW!”) and “sexy bad boy chef” thing is not new—a decade ago, Cooper himself played a fictionalized version of Anthony Bourdain in the forgotten TV show Kitchen Confidential. That's not to say a chef can’t be an interesting protagonist, but Burnt fails to be anything more than an underinflated soufflé: decadent ingredients wasted by a failure of execution.