'Shameless' alum Jeremy Allen White on cooking 'crash course' for role on Hulu's 'The Bear'

·5 min read

Burns, knife grazes and sliced fingernails.

Jeremy Allen White's minor injuries, suffered while training for his role as an acclaimed young chef in FX's "The Bear" (now streaming on Hulu), provided a sense of satisfaction. White, 31, follows an 11-season run as Phillip “Lip” Gallagher on Showtime’s "Shameless."

Chefs “take a lot of pride in their battle scars, and these different burns and cuts they might get,” he says. “So it felt good. I felt like I was on the right path if I was getting hurt, in a way, which is weird to say. Early on, definitely with the knife work, I was shaving off a little skin here and there but nothing too bad.”

The eight-episode debut season of “The Bear,” created by Christopher Storer, centers on White’s Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, a culinary artist and James Beard Foundation choice for rising star chef of the year. After his brother’s death by suicide, Carmy trades fine dining for fast casual at his family’s Italian sandwich spot, The Original Beef of Chicagoland.

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But organizing the kitchen is a challenge with a disorderly staff, led by a defiant manager, “cousin” Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Carmy is aided by his right hand Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri). Seeing her brother at the restaurant is tough for his older sister, Natalie "Sugar" Berzatto (Abby Elliott), to accept.

White says the series fits the bill of a dramedy.

“It's certainly funny at times,” he says. “We're trying to make it like real life. Sad things can be funny. Funny things can make you sad, and it has all of those moments in it.”

Actors Jeremy Allen White, Lionel Boyce and Ebon Moss-Bachrach in a scene from "The Bear."
Actors Jeremy Allen White, Lionel Boyce and Ebon Moss-Bachrach in a scene from "The Bear."

Before signing on for the role, White’s “interest level in cooking was pretty much nonexistent,” he says.

He completed a two-week "crash course" at the Institute of Culinary Education in Pasadena, California, and worked at two Los Angeles restaurants and with chef David Waltuck. Now, White says his knife skills are “pretty good” and has a dozen dishes he’s “pretty comfortable with,” including filet au poivre and short ribs. “That Sunday roast comfort food, that's what I like to cook the most.”

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Jeremy Allen White stars in "The Bear" as Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto, a chef who excelled in the culinary world.
Jeremy Allen White stars in "The Bear" as Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto, a chef who excelled in the culinary world.

Before working at The Original Beef alongside amateur cooks, Carmy was employed at a high-end New York eatery where a demeaning chef, played by Joel McHale, verbally ripped his staff to shreds.

Carmy tells his sister in the second episode he began having trouble breathing while in New York. "I was throwing up every day before work," he says.

The culinary world where "chefs have become pop icons" drew White to the role of Carmy, whom he views as a sympathetic character.

“My heart broke for him,” White says. “You're meeting him at this incredibly traumatic period in his life, and he's also a young man whose identity is so wrapped up in being a chef and being a successful one at that, where everything seems really so life and death all the time.”

White thought he could access the all-or-nothing feeling easily as someone who once felt his acting career had similar stakes.

“I'm a little older now, my life’s a little bit fuller, but certainly as a younger man and a younger actor, my identity was incredibly wrapped up in acting and my performance and my success as an actor,” he says. “And that's a really scary place to be when you're so wrapped up in one thing as a person.” White is married to actress Addison Timlin, and the couple has two young daughters: Ezer, 3, and Dolores, 1.

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Jeremy Allen White, then 22, is photographed in Los Angeles in 2013 with his "Shameless" castmate, Emma Greenwell.
Jeremy Allen White, then 22, is photographed in Los Angeles in 2013 with his "Shameless" castmate, Emma Greenwell.

“I was just a lot harder on myself when I was younger,” says White, who has spent most of his adult life in one role, interspersed with indie films and guest spots. When he was cast on “Shameless” at 18 and moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn. “I really expected the world to come to me faster, and I really expected to be getting all of the jobs that I really wanted. I was treating this whole thing and my career as a sprint rather than a marathon. Today, I aim more for longevity. At the time, I really wanted as much success as I could possibly get, as fast as I could get it.”

The endurance of “Shameless,” a drama centered on a large, dysfunctional family headed by eldest child Fiona Gallagher (Emmy Rossum) and their alcoholic, manipulative father Frank (William H. Macy) surprised White.

“At the beginning, like any show, we knew that we had a great time, and we knew that it was something special, but you really never know what's going to hit,” he says. “In those early seasons, we were waiting for a pickup every year. We never really knew.”

White says he felt a shift when the show arrived on Netflix, widening its audience.

“There was a bit more comfort in knowing how long we would be doing it, but I don't think you ever start a show and think you're going to go that long, and I don't think it'll ever happen to me again. I love ‘The Bear,’ and I want to do it for a long time. But 11 seasons, that just doesn't really happen anymore.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The Bear: Jeremy Allen White on cooking wounds, 'Shameless' longevity