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Photo Credit: Matt Dinerstein / FX

Acting Up: Ayo Edebiri

The Snapshot:

Ayo Edebiri is a hard-working chef stirring things up in the busy kitchen of a Chicago sandwich shop in the well-concocted dramedy series, The Bear.

(The series premiered on June 23rd only on Hulu.)

The Performance:

There’s a saying that if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. In The Bear, the kitchen is hotter than most places on planet thanks to one of the most meticulous chefs in America.

Welcome to the uncozy confines at The Original Beef of Chicagoland, a family-owned sandwich shop where tempers run hotter than a range oven and the beef is treated like haute cuisine.

In the center of it all is Sydney Adamu (Edebiri), a talented chef who comes on to help out or “massage” things in Chicagoland, but soon has a beef with how they run things. Sydney’s ambitious side acts up immediately early in the series as she presents a plan to improve operations to Carmen (aka “Carmy”), the new chef/owner who’s come in to run the shop after his brother Mikey’s unfortunate suicide.

As with many millennials with dreams to clean up other people’s messes, Sydney soon finds herself in charge of the kitchen (careful what you wish for), anointed sous chef of their new French brigade-style kitchen – watching people closely who may not want to be watched.

It’s a reality that leads to some comedy in the kitchen in the form of cut onions mysteriously disappearing thanks to handiwork of a pastry chef – but also tense relations with others like a line chef who’s so set in her ways she’s not above sabotaging a saucepan to send a message.

In this regard, Edebiri is the perfect ingredient in this series to balance out the restaurant’s colorful cast of characters. In The Bear, chaos is the order of the day and despite Carmy’s intention of turning this shop “into a respectable place of business run by adults…eventually,” Sydney runs into her fair share of childish behavior. Mostly from Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach
from Girls), Carmen’s cousin, who loves to yell, insult and play a role most people can’t define.

How Edebiri’s Sydney wins people over and joins Carmy’s cream-rising-to-the-top mentality is one of the joys of this series. And there are many if you can get past the breakneck pacing, yelling and tense timelines in early episodes. Stay with it and you realize why it currently has a Certified Fresh 100-percent on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer – at least, as of this writing.

Edebiri’s arrival early in the series is a welcomed presence to counterbalance all the frenetic foodstuff. Sydney is our voice of reason and breathes fresh air into the heated exchanges between Richie and Carmy, concocting a sanity, presence and compassion amidst kitchen chaos. She’s the rare cashew in a bag of mixed nuts and compelling to watch as she helps navigate Chicagoland’s transformation from shitshow into something more exquisite.

It’s her “chillarchy” if you will, or her attempt to run a kitchen different than anything resembling a hierarchy. And it has you coming back for seconds, thirds, even a full binge.

The Career:

It’s rare you can see such a diverse Hollywood resume in a 26-year-old Boston-born actor. With a mom from Barbados and a father from Nigeria, Edebiri has over-achieved big time in terms of Hollywood hyphens with writing credits to go with acting and even standup comedy credentials.

A fact that might lead you to believe she came out of the womb with heavy designs on Hollywood fame. Not so much. Her first stop, as she told Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, was as an English teacher. But she soon found out that “teenagers are really scary and will tell you when you’re not a good English teacher.” She owes them a big heartfelt thank you for the non-glorious sendoff, as Edebiri has thrived ever since and hasn’t stopped working the last few years.

With writing credits on the short-lived Sunnyside (2019) another celebrated FX series, What We Do in the Shadows (2022), Edebiri has also worked as a scribe as well on the Apple TV+ series Dickinson (2019-2021). It’s a series she also had a role in where she played Hattie – who is described by The Mary Sue as “a writer as well, penning ghost stories for the paper, but also a maid who hustles white people out of their money by putting on seances.”

Long live the side gig.

To date, Edebiri has also lent her vocal cords to memorable voicework on the much-loved animated series Big Mouth (2020-2022) as Missy Foreman-Greenwald and also did a standup special on Comedy Central as well to help further cement her brand as a Renaissance woman.

As for what’s next, there’s a season two of The Bear, which will roar to our attention eventually and a film Edebiri shot called Bottoms (2023), which is reportedly about “two unpopular queer high school students [who start] a fight club to have sex before graduation” amongst other projects.

But if that’s too far from now, you can also catch her on her podcast Iconography (with Olivia Craighead), where they have celebrity guests on to talk about shared personal icons.

Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.