In recent years, we’ve seen a new wave of foodie films and TV shows. Back in August, The Bear, a kitchen comedy as swaggering as it is stressful, landed on Disney. Next month, we’ll see the arrival of Jez Butterworth’s Mammals, which follows a grumpy, Michelin-starred chef (James Cordon) as he uncovers a series of shocking secrets about his pregnant wife. Then there’s 2021’s Boiling Point, which invited viewers to feel the heat of a high-end London restaurant on the busiest night of the year. It was just one of the countless restaurant dramas to strike a chord with viewers and critics alike. Big Night, Chef, Burnt, Ratatouille. Clearly, if there’s one thing we love more than shoot-outs and superheroes, it’s watching people get stressed out about catering.

So what is it about this particular brand of drama that continues to fascinate us? Cooking, especially in a professional environment, is innately dramatic. It requires skill, speed, precision, big egos and even bigger flames. Restaurant staff make mistakes at their peril, and even the most minuscule error can spell an establishment’s downfall. Many restaurant dramas take place in successful kitchens, where the chefs prepare food for well-monied diners and picky critics. Such films allow us insight into the lives of real-life chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Marco Pierre White and the like, both of whom became famous for running restaurants with a certain military zeal. They treated their staff not as cooks but as comrades, soldiers under the direction of a motor-mouthed, red-faced officer. The food looks amazing, and the stakes are high: what’s not to love?

Of course, a good restaurant drama is in no way dependent on glitz and glamour. Let’s not forget that some of the best foodie films are set in failing restaurants. Take Stanley Tucci’s Big Night, for example, which follows brothers Primo and Secondo as they attempt to introduce ’50s American diners to the authentic taste of Italy. On learning that jazz bandleader Louis Prima is set to make an appearance at their restaurant, they put all their efforts into crafting the finest meal they’ve ever made, one that will decide the fate of their establishment and whether they will be forced to return to Italy. In Big Night, as in The Bear, the restaurant is used to reveal layers of characters who work inside it. Primo is a puritan whose belief that “to eat food is to be close to God” is inconsistent with American consumerism. In contrast, Secondo believes that they must start catering to American taste’s or risk going under. This irreconcilable gulf provides Big Night with every ounce of its narrative weight.

The ease with which a kitchen can be used as a thematic vessel goes some way to explaining why we love to gorge on restaurant dramas; the kitchen is microcosmic and, if used in the right way, can serve as a sort of chemistry lab, where specific (frequently unhinged) characters are thrown into a tense environment and left to react. No wonder the busy, flame-laden kitchen remains such a popular setting – it’s the perfect place for things to go wrong.