Three years ago, Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) worked at one of the premier restaurants in Paris, which his mentor Jean Luc owned. His drug use and manic drive for perfection caused him to implode, taking the restaurant and a number of his friends’ careers with him. Adam disappeared, sobered up, and sentenced himself to shucking one million oysters at a bar in New Orleans. When Adam finishes shucking his millionth oyster he returns to London with a plan to regain his former glory and go for his third Michelin star.
After arriving in London, Adam begins to look up his old colleagues. Jean Luc’s former maitre d’ Tony (Daniel Bruhl) now manages his father’s hotel. Adam wants to take over the hotel’s restaurant, but Tony doesn’t trust him after his behavior in Paris. Frankly, he thought Adam had died, especially because he didn’t show up for Jean Luc’s funeral. Adam had no idea Jean Luc died and feels deep remorse for how he hurt his mentor. Next Adam visits his friend Conti at the restaurant Conti owns. He takes a liking to Conti’s sauce chef Helene (Sienna Miller), but Helene finds him old-fashioned and unbearably conceited. Adam locates Michel, another of his friends from Jean Luc’s. When Michel opened his own restaurant Adam felt deeply betrayed. He released rats in Michel’s kitchen and reported him to a health inspector, which lead to the closure of the restaurant. Michel forgives Adam and agrees to work for him. Adam pays a visit to Reece’s, a cutting edge eatery run by Reece (Matthew Rhys), with whom he has a long standing competition. Reece will not forgive Adam for his behavior in Paris and, like Helene believes Adam is too old-fashioned to succeed on London’s current food scene. Adam also plans to employ another Jean Luc protege, Max, after Max is released from prison. Unfortunately, Adam’s reappearance in Europe attracts the attention of his former drug dealer: Adam still owes the man a considerable sum, and the drug dealer wants to be repaid. Eventually, Tony kicks Adam out of his family’s hotel, where he’d been staying, so Adam seeks out chef-on-the-rise David. David agrees not only to work at Adam’s still hypothetical restaurant but also to let Adam move into his cramped apartment for the time being.
Adam knows exactly how to win Tony over to his side: he contacts famed restaurant critic Simone (Uma Thurman) and asks her to dine at the hotel’s restaurant. Tony flips out when he sees Simone, fully aware that the restaurant’s food will not be up to Simone’s exacting standards. Adam appears in the kitchen in the nick of time and asks Tony for the opportunity to prove himself. Tony, having no other option, agrees. Simone’s review of Adam’s food is favorable enough that Tony and his father agree to renovate their hotel’s kitchen and hire Adam as the head chef. They do require Adam to submit to weekly drug tests with Tony’s psychiatrist Dr. Rosshilde (Emma Thompson). Dr. Rosshilde mentions to Adam that she could see him privately or in a support group session to help him maintain his sobriety. Adam refuses her offer of assistance. He throws himself into preparing for his restaurant Langhams’ grand opening. Max gets out of prison and joins Adam’s team. Helene rebuffs further job offers until, on the day of Langhams’ opening, Conti gently fires her. He sends her to the hotel’s kitchen, where Helene, a single mother, tears into Adam for getting her fired. Her temper softens when Adam offers her a much higher salary and the opportunity to explore her talents; she agrees to work at Langhams. The opening night turns into such a disaster -- bad food, a mostly empty dining room -- that Adam closes the restaurant early. He’s furious with David, Michel, everyone -- but especially Helene. After humiliating her in front of her colleagues and becoming physically aggressive with her, Helene quits.
Adam goes on talk shows (something he previously dreaded) to generate interest in the restaurant. He manages to bring another famous restaurant critic to eat at Langhams. The critic’s favorable review cements Langhams as one of London’s new go-to eateries and drives Reece into a frothing rage. Tony, who obviously cares deeply for Adam, visits Helene to convince her to return to Langhams. He offers her more money and some insight on Adam’s behavior: he grew up in an unhappy home and has always been volatile but brilliant. Helene, still intrigued by Adam, agrees -- and when she returns to the kitchen, Adam treats her with more respect. Their relationship continues to improve when Adam, who believes cakes are beneath him, bakes a cake for Helene’s daughter Lily on her birthday. Adam would not give Helene the day off, so Tony offers to watch her at the hotel, and Adam makes an effort to connect with the young girl.
Once Langhams has established itself, Tony and Adam prepare to earn a Michelin star. They tell the waitstaff and kitchen staff what two Michelin judges might behave like: a pair who arrives separately, orders from the tasting and main menu, who ask for tap water and house wine. They might also put a fork on the ground to see if the waiters notice because Michelin judges award stars based on their entire dining experience. Adam continues to fend off his drug dealer’s collectors and to see Dr. Rosshilde for drug tests. He remains impervious to her judgments about his sobriety and his perfectionism but, when asked, admits he knows Tony is in love with him.
When Adam receives an invitation to the reopening of Reece’s restaurant, he asks Helene to accompany him -- although not in a romantic way. Even though it’s not a date, the two of them enjoy themselves. Adam and Reece manage to be civil, but the night derails when Adam spots Jean Luc’s daughter Anne Marie (Alicia Vikander). He goes to say hello to her, and Reece explains to Helene that they used to date. Adam’s surprised when Anne Marie treats him kindly, especially since he abandoned her three years ago and didn’t attend her father’s funeral. Anne Marie has also gotten clean and sober and wants to give Adam her father’s cooking knives. (In the cooking world, high-quality knives are extremely expensive and can last a chef their entire career.) Seeing Anne Marie brings all of Adam’s regrets to the forefront of his mind, so he wanders away from the party. Helene finds him at a fish market next morning; Adam talked about serving fish the night before, so it was a logical place to check. Adam has wandered around the whole night thinking about what went wrong in Paris. Jean Luc was more of a father figure to him than his own dad, and he defined himself by his prowess as a chef. He loved the volatile fast-paced environment of the kitchen and thrived there. Until, he didn’t anymore. He took drugs, screwed around, and came unhinged. He now wants to achieve greatness and doesn’t know how to handle failure.
Adam and Helene share their first kiss in front of the restaurant that morning. Tony interrupts them, but he’s not alone. The drug dealer’s henchmen have returned, and they want Adam to go with them. He hands the fish to Helene and leaves with them. Tony tells Helene not to worry because Adam can handle himself -- except, that evening, Helene discovers a beaten Adam by the kitchen entrance. Tony and Helene want to take Adam to the hospital, but before they can do much more than clean him up, they learn that two Michelin judges have come to Langhams. Everyone rushes about in a frenzy, and Adam barely holds it together. They finish the judges’ meals, call the waitstaff for service, and wait. Minutes later, the waiter returns with two uneaten meals. The judges sent their food back because their soup was too spicey. Michel, who previously assured Adam that he’d checked the soup, admits he poured too much cayenne into the soup. He has had his revenge for what Adam did to him in Paris. After Michel leaves, Adam falls apart and, despite Tony’s and Helene’s protests, also runs out.
Adam wanders around London. He climbs onto the railing of Westminster Bridge and seems to consider jumping. Later he shows up at Reece’s restaurant and bangs on the windows until Reece lets him in. Adam is soused and makes a nuisance of himself in the kitchen. When he pulls a small plastic bag over his head and begins weeping, Reece dismisses his kitchen staff and rips the bag of Adam’s head. He cradles Adam when he falls to the floor, and he allows Adam to spend the night. The next morning while Reece cooks Adam breakfast Reece says that he knows Adam’s a better cook than him. He still appreciates Adam’s work though because it pushes him to keep experimenting. They part on far better terms. Adam visits Dr. Rosshilde and attends his first group therapy session. When he returns to the hotel, he learns that Anne Marie has paid off the drug dealer. She also gives him her father’s knives and urges him to be good to Helene. Tony and Helene find Adam with amazing news: the two men the night before were not Michelin judges, although they behaved exactly like them! Adam is thrilled to have another chance to get a Michelin star, but he’s even happier to kiss Helene again. They begin to date.
Adam changes the way he runs the kitchen. He listens to Helene and Max more, and he’s more supportive of David. When the real Michelin judges come to Langhams, he works with the other chefs, especially Helene, to serve a superb meal. They receive their third star, and Tony and Adam celebrate.
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