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Photograph: Christian Black
Photograph: Christian Black

This is what London chefs think of restaurant film ‘Boiling Point’

The new drama set in a Dalston kitchen has riled up the hospitality industry

Angela Hui
Written by
Angela Hui

New restaurant film ‘Boiling Point’ has divided London’s hospitality industry. The intense one-take drama stars Stephen Graham as a head chef enduring a night in the kitchen from hell at a fictional buzzy east London restaurant (filmed at Dalston’s Jones & Sons). Everything goes horribly wrong: a restaurant critic shows up unannounced, a customer has a reaction to a nut allergy and the sous chef hands in their notice mid-service.

Like Marmite, some viewers loved the film, while others hated it. A few people found it too triggering, so couldn’t bring themselves to watch it, and some of those who have seen it fear that its portrayal of kitchen life is so inaccurate that it has caused damage to the industry’s reputation. We asked some London chefs and kitchen staff to weigh in with their thoughts on the film. Some wanted to remain anonymous in case their views were held against them at work.

Melissa Thompson, supper club chef and BBC Good Food columnist

‘I’m not an actual chef, but worked in the kitchen during my residency days. The tension was spot-on and the communication between the chefs at the pass and floor staff was excellently portrayed – each taking their stress out on each other because they can’t get to the actual person whose fault it is. And they know that, but still have a go anyway.’

Mitshel Ibrahim, head chef at Ombra

‘It was so unrealistic in so many ways. Maybe it’s because I really like Stephen Graham, but I felt so disappointed by the quality of dialogue. ​​Not sure if the single-take choice was a good one. They inevitably had to try to fit as many episodes into a single evening, and I don’t think I know any chef that would experience getting a visit from an environmental health officer, almost killing a customer and someone handing in their notice mid-service. Obviously, these things happen but it is a poor representation of what a service in a restaurant is like. None of the chefs say ‘backs’ or ‘behind’ a single time (a word used to notify other staff members of your presence in case they turn with a knife or something hot in their hands).’

Chris Leach, founder and head chef at Manteca

‘I thought it really captured the intensity of a service but it felt really dated as to how kitchens are. The coke scene at the end was straight out of the ’90s! I thought the front-of-house stereotypes were quite good but the overall feel of the kitchen felt wrong.’ 

Sandy Jarvis, managing director at The Culpeper Family group

‘For me, it felt super realistic. You often watch things set in kitchens that don’t feel real, but in ‘Boiling Point’ there were lots of small moments that felt very genuine. As you were watching, it felt like a genuine service. I’m a big fan of Stephen Graham anyway, but it felt like he put a lot of effort into learning from actual services. Overall, I really enjoyed it.’

James Cochran, head chef at 12:51

‘It pains me to say it, but I didn't think it was great. I think I had too high hopes for it after all the pre-release hype. My main gripe was that the one take wasn’t necessary. I know they wanted to capture the essence of a kitchen service in a busy restaurant, but I think it would have been better to capture the whole day in stages, as there’s so much pre-service work. I felt parts were interesting: the sections on social media, for example, were great at showcasing how we are so self-absorbed by it all. But I was actually expecting a bit more intensity. The one huge, massive plus was Stephen Graham – he takes the scenes by the scruff of the neck and was phenomenal throughout the film.’

Photograph: Christian Black
Photograph: Christian Black

Imogen Davis, co-owner of Native

‘The concept was intriguing, and I love that Stephen Graham took this role to show a hint of behind the scenes in restaurant life. I think the film definitely provokes conversation about the industry, from guests’ behaviour to the pressures behind the scenes, but I can’t help but feel it was a softened, less fiery version. Oh, and a top tip: don’t watch it the night before returning to service! Anxiety levels through the roof thanks to the single take!’

Ruth Hansom, head chef at Princess of Shoreditch

‘To be honest, I didn’t think too much of it. It was very clichéd and just showed the same thing over and over again. While it did showcase a lot of problems faced in a busy restaurant environment, it only showed the outcomes and not the causes. Why was he like this? What had happened to him? And how had his life gone so wrong? That’s what the viewers wanted to know. Let’s not even talk about the food!’ 

Ben Boeynaems, head chef at The Colony Grill Room at The Beaumont Hotel

‘It’s a realistic portrayal of some kitchens and especially old-school chefs. Watching it was not a very relaxing experience and I found the storyline a little bit clichéd. I think as a piece of art it’s a good representation of some experiences in a kitchen, but I don’t think it’s a great advert for our industry. But amazing acting from Stephen Graham and I liked the one-shot production.’

Gizzi Erskine, chef and TV personality

Doug McMaster, executive chef at Silo

‘A truly emotional and harrowing film that resonated for days. It so magnificently captured the feeling of what it’s like to work in a terrible kitchen. Adding to this, I thought the acting was better than anything I’ve seen, it really did feel real. Huge praise to the actors involved. And to shoot it all in one take is just amazing. Despite the food preparation, cooking and service not being realistic, this was stunning production of an anxious nightmare.’

Gary Lee, executive Chef at Joe Allen  

‘It’s not a real depiction of kitchens nowadays. Although a lot of the swearing (and the rest) does go on in kitchens, I’m not sure it quite happens like that. It’s not a bad adaptation of what happens in kitchens, but it’s definitely not as bad as that, and if it was, there is no way I would have worked with people like that, people who speak with so much venom. Years and years ago, you needed a seriously thick skin to work in a kitchen and if you weren’t ‘in with the crowd’ then you were quickly ousted. Without getting into it too deeply, just think about how it was for black chefs in those days – believe me, it was very, very hard. I’d like to see a film that highlights this side of the kitchen rather than chasing stars and recognition.’
Photograph: Vertigo Releasing
Photograph: Vertigo Releasing

Kitchen porter at a Michelin-starred restaurant in east London 

‘It had me on the edge of my seat the entire time and not in a good way. I had anxiety from start to finish and found it too triggering and accurate to my job. I had to watch ‘Paddington’ to make myself feel better afterwards.’ 

Ben Murphy, chef-patron at Launceston Place

‘I thought the acting was brilliant and made the whole film seem very real – Stephen Graham and the whole cast were incredible. I did think that the level of stress portrayed didn’t match the food being produced – I would expect that from a top kitchen that’s very demanding, not from one that serves more brasserie-style comfort dishes. I also don’t think it accurately reflects how the industry is now, it reminds me more of working in kitchens 15 years ago. Nowadays, it’s not about yelling at your staff for results, and I think young people watching the film could be put off joining the industry. 

Pastry chef at a bakery in Covent Garden 

‘Who holds a spoon like that to taste lemon curd? I’ve been a pastry chef for eight years and I’ve never seen anyone hold a spoon like that. Honestly, that’s the bit that ruined the film for me.’ 

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