In addition to star Jeremy Allen White’s months of training at restaurants, including Santa Monica’s Pasjoli, much of the realism so many have attributed to TV's "The Bear" is due to the culinary supervision of chefs Courtney Storer and Matty Matheson, who also played handyman Neil Fak on the show. The culinary producers devised on-camera dishes for the FX on Hulu series and also served as inspiration and sounding boards within the writers room.
For Storer, the onscreen depiction of the Italian beef would need to be perfect. The former Jon & Vinny’s chef grew up eating the sandwich with Christopher Storer, her brother and the show’s creator. It’s an item that contains memories of celebrations, of game days, of family get-togethers. As a child, years before taking her first kitchen job at Sonny's Express in Park Ridge, Ill., she would order a beef there and break it into pieces to make it last throughout the day. For years after moving to Los Angeles, she questioned whether she should open a beef shop herself — and whether Angelenos would embrace or even understand it if she tried.
Then came “The Bear,” her brother’s longtime labor of love, and a time for her beloved beef to shine. For some, it would be their first introduction to one of Chicago’s greatest culinary exports.
She and Matheson created two versions for the show: one more traditional to a classic Chicago beef shop, representing how Richie and the crew would originally make it, then another using Carmy’s fine-dining techniques, which he’d try and employ on Day One of his return. Carmy’s method incorporated cheffier methods, such as browning the beef before roasting it to layer more flavor and deglazing the pan with red wine.
“I really enjoyed making the beef with Matty because we didn't look back at recipes,” Storer says. “We were like, ‘What would we want to eat?’ Or, ‘How would this chef that comes from fine dining come in and give a spin on something that's done a specific way all the time?’”
They shot the pilot at the iconic Mr. Beef on Orleans, in Chicago, then built a working kitchen on a stage in L.A. that re-created the space but gave themselves more room for easier camera maneuvering — all while still re-creating the cramped, claustrophobic kitchen feeling, which ratcheted up the tension throughout the season. Roughly 30% of Storer's role was sharing her years of restaurant experience, helping the writers and actors make the show as realistic to chefs’ lived experiences as possible. The other 70% of her role was cooking on set, preparing the food that would appear onscreen — and every day there was a food shot. The scent, she says, was torturous to the cast and crew — especially on the day that called for braciole, a highly aromatic dish of rolled steak in tomato sauce that cooks all day. They'd walk by and say, “We just wanna know that we can eat it.”
So how do you make a proper Italian beef? Storer shared her recipe and gave us a demonstration in her kitchen (see the video above). She says the recipe is very forgiving. She used beef chuck in her demo, but she's also used top round or top sirloin roast. She suggests that you choose the cut of meat that best fits your budget. The bread, however, is a critical component. It should be soft, American-style French bread, not crusty sourdough. Storer uses baguettes from the Chicago-founded Turano Baking Co., which is sometimes sold locally at Aldi supermarkets. We also found that Gonnella and Amoroso sandwich rolls, available from Smart & Final, have a good consistency. As for the giardiniera, Storer chefs hers up by using fennel bulbs in addition to the traditional carrot, celery and cauliflower, but she says that what you find jarred in your local supermarket or deli should work fine.
Find chefs and "The Bear" culinary producers Courtney Storer and Matty Matheson at the Los Angeles Times Food Bowl on Friday, Sept. 23, demonstrating a recipe inspired by the series. Tickets are available now.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.