This October, Bradley Cooper puts down his American Sniper rifle and picks up a chef’s knife for the drama Burnt, set in the high-stakes culinary world. “The kitchen’s the only place I’ve ever felt like I’ve really belonged,” Cooper says in the just-released trailer for his latest awards-season hopeful, which casts him as troubled chef Adam Jones, a Paris-trained kitchen ninja looking to bounce back from a string of bad decisions and plain old bad luck.
The Oscar-nominated actor has good reason for feeling at home in front of a butcher’s block. Ten years ago, Cooper donned a white coat and apron to headline Kitchen Confidential, Fox’s half-hour comedy based on the best-selling memoir by rebel chef Anthony Bourdain. (The entire 13-episode run is currently streaming on Hulu.)
In his book, Bourdain shook up the previously sedate image of the culinary arts, revealing the wild and crazy things that go on inside the kitchens of your local three-star restaurants. Because the series aired on network television, Kitchen Confidential producer Darren Star couldn’t depict some of the more R-rated antics on display in Bourdain’s written account, not to mention Star’s HBO series, Sex and the City, which had just wrapped up its six-season run the previous year.
Nevertheless, Cooper’s character, Jack Bourdain, still got up to plenty of mischief. After years of being a slave to the holy trinity of addictions (drugs, alcohol, and sex), Jack finally looked to turn his life and career around by taking over the kitchen of prestigious New York eatery Nolita, owned by veteran restaurateur Pino (Frank Langella). He brought with him a crew of miscreants that included volatile pastry chef Seth (Nicholas Brendon, in his first big post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer role), seafood wizard Teddy (John Cho), and roguishly charming Englishman Steven (Owain Yeoman), Jack’s sous chef on the line and his wingman with the ladies. They joined a staff that already included butterfingers naïf Jim (John Francis Daley, who previously put the “Geek” in Freaks and Geeks), no-nonsense floor manager Mimi (Bonnie Somerville), and runway-ready hostess Tanya (Jaime King). Needless to say, the resulting clash of personalities proved a (pardon the pun) recipe for mishaps in and out of the kitchen.
Cooper came to Kitchen Confidential on the heels of his breakout role as Will Tippin on J.J. Abrams’s spy serial Alias (not to mention his scene-stealing turn in Wedding Crashers), and he assumes leading man duties with ease. He’s cocky without being obnoxious, and confident without being aggravating. And rather than go the obvious Sam-and-Diane route of pairing him off with the uptight Somerville, the show’s writers wisely directed his romantic gaze elsewhere, eventually settling on Childrens Hospital funnywomanErinn Hayes as Becky, a colleague turned rival chef eager to prove herself Jack’s equal and better. The show’s ace ensemble provided Cooper with plenty of comic support, with Daley and Yeoman proving particularly good foils.
Unfortunately, Kitchen Confidential had the misfortune of airing before the Top Chef-inspired foodie TV revolution. That Bravo hit debuted in February 2006, two months after Confidential aired its fourth and final episode, leaving an additional nine in the can. (Those nine unaired episodes featured the Jack/Becky arc, as well as the burgeoning romance between Jim and Tanya, a sweet, funny love story that fans would have immediately shipped on Tumblr if Tumblr had existed in 2005.) Despite the series’ short shelf life, Cooper’s time as a television chef clearly paid off, gifting him with the kitchen skills he’ll need for Burnt. Because cooking gourmet meals is just like riding a bike: Master it once and you’ll be sous-viding for life.
All 13 episodes of Kitchen Confidential can be streamed on Hulu; Burnt opens in theaters on Oct. 23.