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Last month the internet exploded with people talking about the FX series the bear, an eight-episode drama streaming on Hulu. If you missed it somehow, the series follows Carmen Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), a CIA-trained chef (it’s Culinary Institute, not the other CIA) who leaves her restaurant upscale from New York to go home to Chicago and whip up a hot beef sandwich. spouse left to him when his older brother Michael committed suicide. With the help of new recruit Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) and the hindrance of “cousin” (actually Michael’s best friend) Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), he streamlines the kitchen into a semi-slick work environment. .
The show has been renewed for a second season, but apparently it takes time to write scripts, shoot episodes, edit them, etc., and I’m not a patient person. Assuming you’re not either, I’ve compiled a list of books that fans of the bearranging from chef memoirs and stories about Chicago to fiction about family, food, and more.
There’s something for everyone (I hope!) in these nine books like the bear.
Books like The Bear to read right away
Confidential kitchen by Anthony Bourdain
After watching the first episode of the bearmy husband and I (both of whom have worked in kitchens) turned to each other and said, “This is the show they should have done when they did Confidential kitchen.” The OG of memoirs by popular chefs, this book has been the introduction for many readers to the idea that restaurant kitchens are an absolutely wild environment. The TV series based on this book was fun, but captured next to nothing of what makes the book so good. Read this one if you like the bearand especially if you find yourself inexplicably attracted to Richie.
Notes from a young black chef by Kwame Onwuachi
Reflecting real life, most of the kitchen staff in the bear is black, Latin or both. Onwuachi’s memoir spans his life from teenage drug dealer to caterer to Excellent chef, and examines how unwelcoming the world of food is for a black chef (while most kitchens have at least one black worker, they’re rarely at the top of the chain). Read this one if Sydney is your favorite. There is also a YA adaptation.
Yes sir by Marcus Samuelson
Another memoir from a black leader, this one explores family in a unique way, as Samuelsson was orphaned in Ethiopia and adopted in Sweden. He starts talking about his two mothers and how they shaped his love of food.
Chicago Stories and Other Thoughts from a Working Class Guy by Richard Cronborg
This book blends poetry and prose to tell Chicago stories like only a “working class man” can. Cronberg is an artist who has held many jobs, including 33 years as a heavy machinery operator and a member of the Operating Engineers Union. Now retired, his stories show Chicago most of the characters in the bear would recognize.
Long way down by Jason Reynolds
My favorite episode of the bear (episode 7, “Review”) unfolds in real time, showing a terrible day at The Beef unfolding and tensions rising. It’s harder for a book to show events in real time, as reading speeds vary, but this verse novel comes pretty close. The subject matter is quite different – Will is going to kill the person who killed his brother Shawn, and the novel is set during his elevator ride there – but the tension is there and more.
Luck of the draw by Kate Claybourn
A recurring theme in the bear is Michael’s addiction and death and how it affects Carmen, Richie, and Carmen’s sister, Natalie (“Sugar”), who begs her living brother to go to Al Anon. In Luck of the draw, addiction killed Aiden’s brother, and he must deal with his lingering resentments when former attorney Zoe, who represented the drug company in the family’s lawsuit, comes to seek relief from his guilt. There are also fake meetings, so sign me up!
number one chinese restaurant by Lilian Li
A family restaurant. An unexpected and violent death. A chef who could work in a much fancier establishment. And in this case, a mystery. This time it’s a Chinese restaurant and the death of a father, but the sibling dynamics and restaurant environment are very much like those of the bear.
In the garbage by Mia Hopkins
Eddie, formerly incarcerated, wants to get out of his old gang, but first he must find his father and uncover some family truths. And as long as he does, he wants to prove himself to Carmen, the chef of the Italian restaurant where he does the dishes, who perhaps believes in him. Although the setting is Los Angeles, it sounds very much like a story that could exist on the bear (if it was willing to be a little sexier on the surface).
With the fire above by Elizabeth Acevedo
Some chefs come to eat by accident. Some pursue a career because they are good at it. Some people live and breathe food, and that’s Emoni. A teenage mother who lives with her abuela, she dreams of being a chef but is focused on her high school education. Then she lands a place in an elective cooking class and suddenly she has opportunities. It is a charming and poetic novel about a young woman who knows who she is learning to realize an important part of herself.
If you liked this list of books like the bearHere are some other reads you might enjoy:
Recent books from chefs without cookbooks
Take This Cookbook Quiz And We’ll Tell You Which Food Fiction To Read Next