Much like in the world of cocktails, food is constantly being elevated, deconstructed and transformed. There’s an artistry and creativity to it for sure, but I also have to wonder about the intentions. Is it to stand out amongst the snobs and the critics, or is it because you genuinely are loving what you’re doing?
The Menu proposes that question in a twisted, darkly funny manner. The film invites a guest list of the upper echelon of class to partake in a once and a lifetime dinner experience, constructed by the world famous Chef Julian Slowik. But as each course passes, we begin to realize there’s something darker than dark chocolate planned for the guests.
This film is absurd, and I mean that as a compliment. It manages to portray the world of high-end dining in a way that’s not only for laughs, but as an honest critique on our passions and strives for success. While the film’s off-the-wall nature does take away from some of the tension and shock of it all, it’s at least anchored by solid performances, an enticing score, and a nihilistic wit that manages to be palatable thanks to a sprinkling of optimism.
The performances are a good mix of straight-faced and goofy, never taking themselves too seriously but still managing to add decent weight to the film’s stakes.The standout for me has to be good ol Voldemort aka, Ralph Fiennes, as master chef Julian Slowik. Slowik is just over all the BS of the culinary world and the people who inhabit it, evident in his fiery yet often restrained demeanor. Fiennes is so good at holding the room in his hand and dragging us across glass as we move from one puzzling course to the next. He’s eloquent but razor-tongued, respectful yet absolutely venomous when he wants. All the while a genuine sadness sits in his eyes. Really makes you feel for the maniac. Opposite of him his one of my favorites, Anya-Taylor Joy, who is good don’t get me wrong, but I do feel she’s been saddled with samey feeling roles as of late. While she does a great job I don’t really think she’s given enough room to elevate the character in a way that makes me think I couldn’t see anyone but Joy in that role. Kind of like how I felt about her role in the VVitch. The supporting cast is pretty great as well, with John Leguizamo and Hong Chau having some nice little moments of naivety and intimidation respectively. But my favorite side character has to go to Nicholas Holt as Tyler who…is just the worst. I mean everything this guy says is either cringe-inducing or infuriating, and the film gives you a lot to hate him for. But the payoff for this character is so dark, so silly that I couldn’t help but laugh when I’m not entirely sure I should have.
As for the visuals, the film made the smart decision by putting a lot of quality camera work towards presenting the food in a pretty satiable light. Each dish is given those close, slow-circling panning shots that wouldn’t be out of place on Iron Chef. Its inclusion makes sense for such a film and is even used for comedic effect at times. Even if the rest of the film’s visual style isn’t all that memorable, I still liked this little bit of flare. What did stick to me throughout was the film’s score, composed by Colin Stetson, a frequent collaborator of musical acts like Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, who’s really been making a splash in the film industry. His work on Hereditary is one of my favorite modern horror movie soundtracks. Also have to give props to the script, which handled the satire in such a smart way unlike other scripts that constantly wink wink nudge nudge you to let you know you’re in on the joke. It’s a pretty great takedown on the elitist side of the restaurant world, commenting on the people inside it and those who simply circle it. It makes a point how when passion is swallowed by star ratings and envelope pushing, your drive to be creative can really take a hit. Eventually you’ll end up hating it and everyone associated with it, from the snobby critics to the clout obsessors. But like I said before there’s a bright shimmer of optimism that occasionally manages to shine through the nihilism. It takes you back to a time where your passion was just your passion and your dreams were your dreams. When you did what you did because you loved it. It’s a great lesson on remembering what brought you here in the first place, and the dark road you can go down if you lose sight of that.
Coming in at just a little over 90 minutes, The Menu is a quick, contained meal of deliciously dark humor and seering satire. While it’s certainly not as surprising from a narrative point of view as I was expecting, I still walked away feeling satisfied. You gotta remember that sometimes, like an overly metaphorical night of fine dining, it’s not so much about the destination as it is about the journey. And if you’re looking for a journey that may convince you to stick to those mom and pop style burgers for a little while longer, then order up. What a great year for the media reminding me of some of the worst jobs I’ve ever had in my life.
Man’s Voluntary Madness
Chef Julian Slowik is world renowned for his bold, challenging dishes, such as his Breadless Bread Plate. As you probably know, and as the movie hints at, the tendency to warp classic meals into overpriced edible art pieces usually stems from a much more hollow place than they let on. However, this does give me the excuse to try something completely different when it comes to cocktail presentation. For this particular drink, I’m throwing on my lab coat and trying my hand at molecular gastronomy, which is fancy talk for turning a liquid into tiny spheres of liquid gel. For the flavor itself, I’ll be employing a home favorite mixture of mine, including gin, creme de violette, and a delicious lemon and ginger vermouth. It’s incredibly boozy and botanical, made a bit more fun in sphere form!
Molecular gastronomy takes time and experimenting to get right, so go crazy and have fun coming up with your own cocktail caviar!
- 2oz gin
- 3/4oz creme de violette
- 1/2oz lemon and ginger vermouth
- 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin
- 2 cups canola oil
- Garnish: Mint leaf
- Before getting started, place the canola oil in a jar, bowl, or tupperware and place it in the freezer for about 30 minutes, rapidly cooling it but not allowing it to freeze.
- Take the gelatin powder and gently sprinkle it over a shallow bowl filled with about 2 tsp of water. Allow it to sit for about 5 minutes. This process is referred to as “blooming”.
- While you wait, add the gin, creme de violette and lemon ginger vermouth to a small pan over low heat.
- Once gelatin forms a solid layer, strain the water from it and add it to the mixture. Stir over low heat until the gelatin completely dissolves.
- Pour mixture into a squeeze bottle or eyedropper. Place in fridge for about 5 minutes to chill.
- Once slightly chilled, take the bottle and gently begin to drip the mixture a few drops at a time into the chilled oil. You can tell its working if balls begin to form that sink to the bottom of the container. For larger caviar, place a few drops in the same place until it reaches your desired size.
- Once you have your desired amount, let sit for about 5 mins before straining the caviar through a fine mesh strainer. (NOTE: You can continue to use the oil by straining it into another container to be used for more caviar later).
- Rinse of the caviar with cool water before serving them. If not serving right away, place in a sealed container and keep in fridge.