Disclaimer: Some show spoilers ahead.

“Heard, chef.” 

Those two words — simple, yet firm — establish respect among chefs in restaurant kitchens. FX’s new popular show The Bear, which has been greenlit for a second season, tells the story of fine dining chef Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto (played by Jeremy Allen White) who comes back home to Chicago to take over the fictional The Original Beef of Chicagoland, his deceased brother’s Italian beef sandwich shop in River North. The show is raw and chaotic than-a-mug; but also is laden with quick wit and comedic relief. 

Carmy’s personal journey through grief and self-worth is the main course, but the talent of two Black chefs serves as delicious side dishes throughout the series. In the first episode, Sydney Adamu (played by Ayo Edebiri) arrives at the shop to fill the sous chef position. With training from The Culinary Institute of America and experience at some of the city’s more recognized fine dining restaurants, Sydney is a sharp leader who lets her work speak for itself — which quickly intimidates the rest of the staff as she jumps right into the pandemonium. 

Black creativity in restaurant kitchens large and small is not a new concept. Our genius can be experienced in a variety of restaurant settings: from fast casual spots and food trucks to bakeries and upscale restaurants. And while they may not always be recognized with endless Michelin stars and James Beard Awards, Black chefs continue to impact restaurant culture and culinary art on a global scale, demonstrating their ability to adapt quickly and apply innovative thinking. 

Chef Q. Ibraheem is an activist, educator and community advocate based in Evanston, a Chicago suburb, who could relate to Sydney’s storyline in The Bear. Getting her start at the Michelin-starred Elizabeth Restaurant in Lincoln Square, Ibraheem recalls the early days of her career as being “indescribable.” 

I was never spoken to, or asked a question by the other chefs,” she says. “It was like I was the spook who sat by the door. No one ever had a conversation with me, and I was not included.” 

Hired in 2013, she was recognized and praised for her hard work by Elizabeth Restaurant’s former executive chef, Iliana Regan, who wanted Ibraheem to become her sous chef. Focused on her growth, Ibraheem left Elizabeth Restaurant after a year and decided to take opportunities elsewhere that would pave the way to her owning her own culinary business.

Chef Q. Ibraheem. Photo by Siege Food Photography.
Chef Q. Ibraheem. Photo by Siege Food Photography.

Today, Ibraheem operates a supper club, Teertsemasesottehg, which is “Ghetto Sesame Street” spelled backwards, and also curates unique dining services complete with locally sourced ingredients as a culinary artist. The dinners are designed to educate and encourage guests to build authentic connections over delicious food. 

“As chefs, we have an obligation to the consumer,” she says. “Food — fresh food — is preventative medicine, and my guests should have the best because I am putting forth my best. I’m always going to give you an exclusive experience.”


Marcus (played by Lionel Boyce) is The Original Beef’s pastry chef who, in the first episode, quickly becomes intrigued by Carmy’s range of culinary expertise. In episode six, he becomes obsessed with making a specialty doughnut — a pastry that isn’t the chocolate cake he’s supposed to make. Carmy ends up belligerently scolding Marcus for taking his focus off the cakes, only to quietly praise his creativity while he eats remnants of the doughnut he threw on the floor. 

This example of harsh communication (read: disrespect) while part of the fast-paced kitchen culture, often leads some Black chefs to leave restaurant kitchens to start their own ventures and do things their own way.

Xavier Vance, a classically trained chef and the owner of the forthcoming South Loop restaurant The Southern Chicago (which will open this fall), has worked in many different restaurants, but realized that he wasn’t going to be able to fully express his passion for upscale southern cuisine by executing other people’s dishes.

During the pandemic, I had a lot of time to figure out what I wanted next in my career, and I realized it was time to bet on myself,” he says. “I’m confident in my abilities and passion and, despite the way the pandemic has affected the restaurant industry, I knew becoming a restaurateur was the appropriate next challenge for me.”

Chef Xavier Vance. Photo by Shaun Andru Photography.

As he recruits for his restaurant, Vance is making sure he creates open door environments for all of his staff, so that everyone feels empowered to express themselves. 

“Very similar to [The Bear] show, I want my kitchen staff to learn technique, style and organization,” Vance says. “I want guests to feel like each dish was created with passion and it’s a unique dining experience.”

For Danny Bullock, private chef and owner of Bull Young Bourbon, his current work has been a culmination of his career experiences, which began at The Trump International Hotel & Tower’s signature restaurant, Sixteen, on the garde-manger (cold dish) station at age 19. In those spaces, standards were incredibly high, and as a new culinary school grad, he quickly learned to stay in his lane to do his job effectively. 

“Nothing left the kitchen unless it was considered perfect,” he recalls. “That was the highest level you could cook in, and I knew if I could work without being screamed at, I could be successful on this level.” 

And while all chefs — no matter race, gender or background — are expected to perform with excellence, there is still an unspoken level of perfection that Black chefs in predominantly-white spaces know they have to uphold, which is expressed by both Marcus and Sydney throughout The Bear.

After a year, Bullock moved on from The Trump Hotel, and accepted a position at The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago as junior sous chef. He stayed there briefly before moving on to a head chef opportunity for a restaurant that never got off the ground. Humbled by this experience, he took his talents back to his home state of Delaware, and worked for Hotel DuPont, which ultimately opened doors for him to travel internationally. Often the only English-speaking chef in the kitchen, Bullock had to find ways to keep himself motivated.

Chef Danny Bullock. Photo courtesy of the chef.
Chef Danny Bullock. Photo courtesy of the chef.

“Lots of mental communication took place where I told myself that ‘I’m very good,’ but I never said aloud,” he says. 

Those internal pep talks would help Bullock execute in his plating, technique and knife skills. Now 32, he has spent the last several years as private chef to celebrity clients, and recently returned to the restaurant kitchen as part of The Bristol “Sunday Supper” series. The Bucktown restaurant’s “Sunday Supper” menu was well received by guests, and gave him the opportunity to experience the pace of a restaurant kitchen. Even at this stage in his career, as a full-time private chef, he remains a student of the craft. 

“You have to be confident, but not too confident where you can’t learn from anybody,” Bullock says. “And even when things don’t go as planned, accept constructive criticism to make that wrong a right and keep moving forward.”

is a freelance contributor for The TRiiBE.