Hmm… the name sounds familiar
That may be because it was also the title of a documentary mini-series in the late 90s that followed a young, hot-tempered Gordon Ramsay as he opened his eponymous Chelsea restaurant. But this new film has nothing to do with that.
So it’s not about a shouty chef trying to run a successful restaurant?
Not exactly, although it does certainly feed into those themes. This Boiling Point centres on Andy Jones (played by Stephen Graham), a fictitious London chef running a restaurant in Dalston. Shot in a single take, it’s set during a busy dinner Christmas service and follows Andy as he tries to balance multiple personal and professional crises that threaten to destroy everything he's worked for.
Sounds like he’s stuck in his own hell’s kitchen
Basically, yes. The film is directed by Philip Barantini, who previously worked as a restaurant chef, and is based on a short film of the same name that also starred Graham in the lead role. Fleshed out here over a 90 minute run time, the film ably captures the pressures that can come from working in a restaurant, be it in the kitchen or the front of house.
Is Andy a likeable character?
Likeable might not be the right word, but he’s certainly a much more nuanced character than the trailer originally suggested. There’s no doubt that Andy can be heavy-handed in his approach. An uncomfortable early scene sees him verbally chastise a member of his brigade for not doing as they were asked; recalling the lairy, explosive personality traits that have long been a trademark of Ramsay, among others. Thanks in no small part to Graham’s considered performance, though, Andy remains sympathetic and is not beyond holding his hands up and admitting fault. Fundamentally he’s an overwrought soul, struggling as much to deal with the fallout from a surprise health inspector visit and the brewing tensions between management and crew as he is his own personal debts and dependencies on alcohol and drugs.
How have chefs reacted to the film?
Many have welcomed its frank and gritty approach. The Pilot Light campaign, which is committed to raising awareness of mental health and providing greater support to the hospitality sector, has championed the film’s release, saying it ‘allows us a look at the potential issues that are still prevalent within the Hospitality industry which we feel the public should know and have more of an understanding of’. Others have been equally enthusiastic. David Wolanski, co-founder of fried-chicken group Chick'n'Sours, has seen the film twice and tells BigHospitality he thought it captured the stress of working in a restaurant environment incredibly well. “Restaurants are unbelievably stressful places to work at the best of times, because customers have extremely high expectations, and you work in this industry because you want to deliver on those expectations. In that respect, so much of Boiling Point rang true. It’s all the harsh realities of what can go wrong. Of course the situations dialled up because of artistic license, but they’re still relatable.”
Has the praise been unanimous?
Not at all. There are many chefs who are quite perplexed about the film’s popularity within the industry. Stosie Madi, chef-patron of the Parkers Arms in Lancashire, says the opposite of Wolanski. She tells us she thought it was a flawed film that, despite portraying the sometimes frantic workings of a kitchen well, didn’t ring true for her. “It needed to have been researched better,” she says. “There is no way a situation like that would have been allowed to deteriorate in the way it did. It felt very implausible to me.” She’s not the only one to make such comments. Missy Flynn, who runs Rita’s in Soho, wrote on her Instagram stories this week that she’s genuinely surprised so many people in the restaurant industry find the film that interesting, adding that she didn’t see what the point of it was.
So what can we take from it?
While those in the industry might find it a familiar (or maybe not so) narrative, Boiling Point does give an engaging snapshot of the nuances and challenges of running a restaurant that might otherwise go unnoticed by people outside the trade. Barantini's decision to film it all in a single take deftly manages to immerse the audience and carefully juxtapose what customers think restaurants are like and the reality of what they are like for people who work there. How true to life it is now, though, is hard to determine. Madi says that while it wasn’t as flimsy as US portrayals of working as a chef (see Jon Favreau's 2014 film Chef and John Wells's 2015 film Burnt, which starred Bradley Cooper), she didn’t think it was a just reflection of where the industry is today. Wolanski comes down more on the other side. “I don’t think it’s a positive or negative representation, but it’s fair,” he says.
Boiling Point is out now in cinemas and available on digital platforms.