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The Heat, The Pressure, The Violence: Cooking Films Are The New Boxing Movies


A new movie opening next week follows a macho guy in a rough job.


BRADLEY COOPER: (As Adam Jones) The kitchen's the only place I've ever felt like I really belonged. I love every minute of it - the heat, the pressure, the violence.

CORNISH: "Burnt" stars Bradley Cooper as a chef who's lost everything and has to rebuild. NPR's Neda Ulaby says it's the latest example of how cooking movies have become a lot like boxing movies.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: There was a time when cooking movies were slow, lush and sensual...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Character, speaking Spanish).

ULABY: ...Like "Water For Chocolate" or "Chocolat," or "Eat Drink Man Woman." But these days, cooking movies sound a lot more like this.


COOPER: (As Adam Jones) You are looking at that all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As Character) Yes, Chef.

COOPER: (As Adam Jones) Yeah - you have eyes on it the whole time, so you have to pass.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As Character) Yes, Chef.

COOPER: (As Adam Jones) Yeah. Look at me - yeah?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As Character) Yes, Chef.

COOPER: (As Adam Jones) You up for it?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As Character) Yes, Chef.

COOPER: (As Adam Jones) All right. Let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Characters) Yes, Chef.

ULABY: That trailer for "Burnt" reminded Seth Wiley, who's a filmmaker in Los Angeles, more of "Rocky" than, say, "Babette's Feast." He realized the two professions have much in common.

SETH WILEY: Chefs and boxers - they're going to go through the years of abuse and training. And they're tough and misunderstood, but they have this conviction.


JON FAVREAU: (As Carl Casper) ...Going to do this - is it on?

ULABY: Like in a movie from last year that's very similar to "Burnt" called "Chef."

WILEY: I think "Chef" is a great example.

ULABY: Its basically the same plot as a lot of boxing movies. It's about a guy, a scrappy outsider who's fallen from the top of his game.

WILEY: And he has to find himself again. He has to start at the basics, much like Rocky did in "Rocky III."


ULABY: In case you haven't refreshed yourself on the "Rocky" franchise since 1982, "Rocky III" is the one where Rocky has a crisis of confidence before fighting a boxer played by Mr. T.


SYLVESTER STALLONE: (As Rocky) I don't believe in myself no more. Don't you understand? What if I don't believe? That's it. He's finished. It's over. That's it.

ULABY: Which brings us to another major similarity between boxing and contemporary cooking movies, and it's not how punching a speed bag...


ULABY: ...Sounds like chopping onions.


ULABY: Although it's kind of related. It's the hardcore training sequences, as in "Rocky..."


BURT YOUNG: (As Paulie) Pick it up. Pick it up.

ULABY: ...And in "Ratatouille" when a young chef's prime for the big time.


JANEANE GAROFALO: (As Colette) Keep your hands and arms in close to the body like this, see? Always return to this position. Cooks move fast - sharp utensils, hot metal. Keep your arms in. You will minimize cuts and burns and keep your sleeves clean - mark of the chef.

ULABY: All this, says Seth Wiley, marks a change in how chefs are culturally perceived. Not long ago, he says, pop culture portrayed them as fussy, foreign and silly.

WILEY: You'd call him Frenchie or Pierre or whatever, and they'd have an accent and slight of build. And now these chefs we see on "Top Chef" and out in the world have these huge tattooed arms.

ULABY: And attitudes like boxers. Cooking entertainment has becoming dominated by "Top Chef"-style competition shows that put chefs, more or less, in the ring.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Throughout the entire season, Gregory and I have gone head to head quite a few times, and he beat me quite a few times. So this is redemption time for me, and you know, I'm hungry to win.

ULABY: But even in world where someone like Bobby Flay delivers nearly as much punch as Manny Pacquiao, boxing fans can take heart. Three big boxing movies are scheduled to come out soon, including one about Rocky. It will be the seventh. And the ethos is basically the same. If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.

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