On "The Bear," Sydney's Chicago-wide smorgasbord liberates women from food guilt and girlbosses

Yes, this episode is a love letter to Chi Town, but also shows why Sydney, like Coach K, can lead others to victory

Published July 3, 2023 3:00PM (EDT)

Ayo Edebiri as Sydney Adamu in "The Bear" (Frank Ockenfels/FX)
Ayo Edebiri as Sydney Adamu in "The Bear" (Frank Ockenfels/FX)

The following contains spoilers

Women are not allowed to eat — in life or onscreen. From revolving diet trends to the return of "thin is in" to ozempic, policing how much women eat is a tale as old as time. This is why it's rare to see women eating a full meal on screen without being fat-shamed à la Monica from "Friends," depicted as picky eaters like Sally in "When Harry Met Sally" or villainized as cannibals and murders as horror tropes so often do. Women, society teaches, are guilty for eating. God forbid if they eat a lot. Thankfully, Sydney Adamu didn't get that memo.

In "Sundae," the third episode of the second season of "The Bear," Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) embarks on a food tour of Chicago at the behest of Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), who tells her they need to find menu inspiration only to then skip out on his own plans. While the episode may fly under the radar in comparison to the extremely tense "Fishes" or homoerotic undertones of "Honeydew," the episode radically — finally! — sets women free from years of toxic diet culture as well as girlboss tropes.

Stood up and even told she could take the rest of the day off, Sydney could have easily despaired. Instead, she helps herself to a smorgasbord. She eats a truly unreasonable amount of food, all from real Chicago eateries.  A longaniza breakfast sandwich with a hashbrown, mushroom adobo and a mango tart from Kasama; a pepperoni slice from Pizza Lobo; ribs and fries from Russell's Barbecue; another slice from Pequod's Pizza; noodles and scallion and sesame bread from Lao Peng You; and short rib hummus from Avec

Unlike the Monicas and Sallys that came before her, Sydney is not shamed for eating nor does she feel ashamed for doing so. The episode, directed by Joanna Calo and written by Karen Joseph Adcock and Catherine Schetina, makes clear that it's the opposite; the fact that she's eating is empowering. As if taking herself on a solo date, Sydney takes large, unhindered bites meal after meal.

The soundtrack indicates that this is not a case of stress or comfort eating, but an act of joy. First, exuberant electronic music, "Secret Teardrops" by Martin Rev, plays right before she eats, followed by the jaunty track, "25 Miles" by Edwin Starr, as she embarks on her food tour of the city. Then, she dreams of dishes to the buoyant and ambient song, "Future Perfect" by Durutti Column and chows down to the energetic tune of "To Make You Happy" by Tommy McGee.

All of this is happening while Sydney speaks to different restaurant owners and chefs who continually hammer home how business partners can save or sink you. The elephant in the room being Carmy's glaring absence. The scene sets up expectations for an inevitable blowup between the two leads, as Carmy grows increasingly distracted with his love life. His absence becomes a foil for her presence. Whereas he is missing, Sydney is here, taking up the task of finding culinary ambition with gusto, taking notes with every meal and observing kitchen crews. Perhaps that's why she doesn't just eat but eats, hungry for success. 

Carmy's decorated achievements and connections are always front and center in the series, but this episode shows Sydney has earned the title of co-partner in her own right. She has her own network of chef connections, whose real-life casting and location implies significance. She gets advice from the actual restaurateur Donnie Madia of One Off Hospitality, general manager at Avec Claire McDonal and the restaurant's chef-de-cuisine, Dylan Patel. Like the cameos, Sydney's drive is real.

If women are discouraged from eating a lot then it's equally true that they are criticized for having ambition. Their onscreen depictions as bosses often act as cautionary tales. Be it the girlboss trope or antiheroine trope, women with ambition often follow it to their detriment, willing to screw over anyone in order to stay in power. Case in point: Miranda Priestly in "The Devil Wears Prada," Saskia in "Class of '07," Veronica from "Riverdale," Alex on "The Morning Show," and the list goes on. It seems, as an article written by Angelica Jade Bastién for The Outline is titled, "America is afraid of ambitious women, even on TV."

But "The Bear" has never been afraid to push the limits and it doesn't shy away here. Once again, the sequence allows Sydney to defy the patriarchal model her Hollywood forbears set forth. Nevermind the fact that it's rare to see women lead kitchens that aren't domestic, Sydney does so as a woman of color, and she does it with compassion. She is the one who opposed Carmy's suggestion of implementing the hierarchical French Brigade method in Season 1. She is the one who heartwarmingly sees the skill and potential in Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), promoting her to sous chef which in turn inspires Tina's own self-confidence. 

The BearJeremy Allen White as Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto and Ayo Edebiri as Sydney Adamu in "The Bear" (Chuck Hodes/FX)

All of this is foretold and symbolized in "Sundae." The episode marks the first introduction of the book, "Leading with the Heart: Coach K's Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life," a key detail given that it continues to come up throughout the rest of the season. The book focuses on leading a team with "courage and confidence," as the waiter at Kasama (Angelo Dolojan) tells Sydney. It's no coincidence that she, the one reading the book, leads the crew to finish their opening night, while Carmy is stuck in the walk-in, a problem of his own making since he failed to call the fridge guy all season.

Calo even outfits Sydney in a 1991 Chicago Bulls Word Championship shirt right before she heads to Kasama, as if noting that she, like Coach K, will lead the team to victory. As she imagines The Bear's chaos menu, she's eating and traveling around the city, looking at buildings and their design for inspiration. Architectural blueprints, close-ups of Chicago's brutalist and gothic buildings, colorful produce stands and assortments of raviolis flash in quick succession, revealing the sources of her creativity. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a slideshow of her childhood photos: images of baby Sydney eating, celebrating early birthdays and being with her mom. Sure, the creativity within Chicago inspires her, but more crucially, she herself does, too. Already, Sydney's found the confidence of Coach K.

After the montage ends, Sydney makes her final stop on her food tour at Margie's Candies where she eats the episode's titular dessert, a sundae. She notices a mother and daughter splitting a sundae, and, after it had just been revealed in the previous episode that her own mother passed away when she was young, the mood reads as melancholy. Once again, Sydney is left eating by herself. But the showrunners linger on her decadent pouring of hot fudge, on how Edebiri heartily licks the spoon. In doing so, "Sundae" tells us that Sydney deserves to have this comfort and to be comforted. She deserves to have a partner who shows up and time to enjoy herself. She deserves to have it all and also the cherry on top. Isn't it about time all women did?

By Kelly Pau


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