Carly (Vinette Robinson) in Boiling Point. Photo: Boiling Point TV Limited/Kevin Baker
“When you really think about it, you are coming to work and making a bit of dinner. So why are people having breakdowns? Getting addicted to drugs and alcohol?”
Philip Barantini is the director of new BBC One drama Boiling Point. And he’s pointing out how absurd it is that restaurant kitchens are so intense. Why does making a “bit of dinner” make for such a stressful environment? And why does this, in turn, make for such great television?
The series picks up the story and characters from his intense, Bafta-nominated film of the same name – which now resides on Netflix, starring Stephen Graham and Vinette Robinson, and was filmed in one hugely complex 90-minute take.
Boiling Point, like the original film, shows just what it takes to make it through the night working in a restaurant. In the film, renowned head chef Andy Jones (Graham) is seen spiralling into a stress-induced breakdown and health emergency during one particularly chaotic night in his high-end eatery. The drama is relentless, the tension barely bearable, the performances utterly compelling and entirely real.
Boiling Point picks up the story a few months later with a focus on Andy’s former colleagues, who now run a new venture – Point North – which is making a name for itself with its northern-inspired menu. As Andy convalesces at home, his former assistant Carly (Robinson) has stepped up to the plate. And she is now running things her own way.
“In the film, Andy was one of those shouty chefs because of what he was going through. He was in the worst moment of his life, so he was incredibly stressed and the pressure was on him and he was taking it out on his staff,” says Barantini.
“I wanted Carly to be the opposite of that. That is not how she wants to run her kitchen. That is not how she wants to treat her staff. There’s still that old-school mentality of shouting. I think that is dying out, but it is still there a little bit. But I wanted Carly to be much calmer, even if she is still under immense pressure.”
Barantini is a former chef. He spent a decade working in kitchens from Michelin-starred restaurants to greasy spoon cafes and gastro pubs.
Along the way, he heard all the stories. And he saw and felt how high stress and anxiety levels were among people working in the hospitality sector. How could making “a bit of dinner” cause so many people so much grief?
When he began working in film, this was an issue he wanted to explore.
He says, “I think people who work in the industry will relate to it. And people who haven’t will find it exciting to see what goes on behind the scenes. You are there to enjoy this beautiful, calm meal – but backstage is pandemonium. You get nights when it is a bit more relaxed but generally it is high octane, high energy, high stress.”
Barantini talks about The Burnt Chef Project – a social enterprise working to help people within the hospitality industry deal with the mental health implications of being in such a pressurised workplace.
Kris Hall, CEO of The Burnt Chef Project, tells The Big Issue: “According to our data, four out of five hospitality professionals we spoke to have experienced mental illness.”
It is a shocking statistic. As part of their mission to modernise the hospitality industry and provide support for workers, Burnt Chef offer a 24/7 text service for people experiencing mental health difficulties, and provide training for managers on how to open conversations and create more healthy workplace cultures.
“Hospitality is a great career choice for all ages and abilities,” says Hall. “And Boiling Point is doing a fantastic job of highlighting many of the challenges that we face as a sector – including difficult customer interactions, high level of demands and a need to improve supportive structures at all levels.”
Barantini is also keen to stress that friendships forged in the fire of a busy kitchen can be extremely strong.
“You never know what’s around the corner, so you go into war together,” he says. “Everyone becomes so close. It is like family – and you probably see them more than your actual family. At the end of a tough shift, you hang out, you go for a drink and it’s all forgotten. It’s the same in filmmaking sometimes.”
Alongside co-writer James Cummings, who had worked front of house for years, Barantini had amassed far more stories and anecdotes and personal experiences within the sector than either could squeeze into the original film.
“The possibilities of the hospitality industry are endless for drama and entertainment,” he says.
“The beauty of that world is that there’s new staff coming in all the time because there’s a high turnover – especially where we are now in the world. Certainly Brexit and Covid have had a huge effect on the hospitality industry. So it’s a really interesting time to explore that world.
“There was talk about whether we could do each episode in a single take, but the answer was no because we wanted to explore these characters outside of work. And it takes an hour to get anywhere in London – so there’d be a whole episode of someone leaving the restaurant and getting on the tube. But we wanted to keep the realism.”
So we see Carly’s mum, played by the genius Cathy Tyson, and their complex relationship. We see the behind-the-scenes struggles to keep the restaurant financially viable – and just what it means when a waiter spills wine on a diner and the head chef has to offer them a free meal. The fear of a poor review on Tripadvisor is strong, Barantini explains.
We also follow new chef Johnny (Stephen Odubola) on his first day, googling how to make Hollandaise sauce and thrown into the action before he’s got his bearings. And we see co-producer Hannah Walters, as pastry chef Emily, looking after everyone in the kitchen – before checking in on their old boss Andy as he recovers.
Comparisons will be made with another show set in a busy kitchen. Because Boiling Point arrives on our screens in the wake of the triumphant second series of The Bear on Disney+. Barantini is ready for these comparisons – and quick to point out that Boiling Point, at least in its first iteration as a short film, did come first.
“I’ve watched it and it’s a great show. A fantastic show,” he says. “But it is two very different worlds, two very different countries, and two very different shows. There are so many stories to be told in that world.
“We will inevitably get compared to The Bear because it is the number one show in the world. But I think it will help our show. And there is room for many chef films and shows. It’s now suddenly become a genre, you know?”
Boiling Point is on BBC One on Sunday nights and iPlayer.
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