‘The Menu’ Making of: Food for the Class War, in 3 Steps

Director Mark Mylod and his crew talk about battling foam, faking crabs and helping Chef’s Table.

During the filming of “,” food stylist Kendall Gensler occasionally found herself on foam duty. “The foams were obviously very difficult because they just die so quickly,” she told IndieWire. “We would foam, they would shoot, die, and then we would foam again.” Gensler would be on stage with a huge container of sauce and an immersion blender to create new foam for the next take. Therefore, there is a risk of recreating a fine dining experience for the camera.

Directed by Mark Mylod, The Menu takes place entirely over a multi-course meal at an exclusive fine-dining restaurant called Hawthorne, located on a remote island run by the sophisticated and, as it turns out, unraveling chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes ) is governed. . The dishes are exquisite. There’s “The Island,” which is reminiscent of the area with raw scallop, pickled local seaweed, and seaweed. “Memory” features marinated grilled chicken thighs (skewered with tiny scissors), picture-printed tortillas, and green salsa cubes. Man’s Folly features Dungeness crab, fermented whey yogurt, dried sea lettuce, umeboshi and seaweed. And the food keeps going, even as dinner spirals into chaos thanks to Slowik’s class warfare system unknowingly enmeshed by a young woman named Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy).

The constant flow of food presented a unique challenge for filmmakers, who needed to make it edible for the actors as well as the kind of visually stunning marvel you might see on Chef’s Table. It’s been a process that has included the help of Michelin-star chef Dominique Crenn, as well as a collaboration between production designer Ethan Tobman, Gensler and Mylod – all of whom recently spoke to IndieWire about how The Menu’s menu came about.

Step 1: Perfect the menu

With Chef Slowik’s menu, the crew didn’t have to start from scratch. Screenwriters Will Tracy and Seth Reiss had written the basics into the screenplay. “Will is a big foodie, so he’s already done some pretty thorough research on what a plausible tasting menu would be,” Mylod said. But from there, the team needed to refine the dishes, a process that moved from the outside of the restaurant to the inside.

“Mark and I decided at our very first meeting that Chef is inspired by nature, in fact he is obsessed with her perfectionism and haunted by her perfectionism,” Tobman said. “Consequently, the restaurant we created had to be built entirely with materials from the island’s ecosystem.” That goes as far as the food. The only problem was that they were shooting in Savannah, Georgia, not the Pacific Northwest, where Tobman envisioned a place like Hawthorne. That meant studying the flora and fauna of this region closely and recruiting the founder of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. “We were looking for chefs who were deeply inspired by nature,” Tobman recalls. “Chef Crenn famously has a menu that is poetry. It’s all inspired by the sea of ​​her childhood, the Normandy countryside, the cold, salty air.”

Crenn brought her pastry chef, Juan Contreras, who worked with Tobman to visualize what Tracy and Reiss had written on the page. The acclaimed chef was immediately drawn to the script and identified with Slowik. “I’m not crazy like him, but I love the creativity behind it,” she said. “It was so psychologically appetizing for me that I wanted to do it.” However, like Tobman, she recognized that the food in the script needed to be more deeply connected to the story and setting. “It was easy to change up the idea of ​​some of the dishes to make sure it brought something more authentic to the time and place the chef was in,” she said.

A course from the film THE MENU. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All rights reserved.

A course from The Menu

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Of course, Tobman was also busy making sure the food looked good on camera, which he had to convey to the food professionals. “I said, ‘Look, you guys are obsessed with the ephemeral nature of looks and taste,'” Tobman said. “’Our medium cannot reflect taste. It’s a whole sensation you just need to eliminate from your approach. These meals don’t have enough contrast for a camera. You’re not going to look good under that lighting.’”

At some point it clicked. They all loved the idea of ​​importing blue caviar roe for the amuse-bouche served to visitors on the Hawthorne boat. Although they couldn’t import the delicacy from Australia for filming – in the film the oyster snack has yellow roe instead – it was a moment that brought the team together. One dish, the aforementioned Man’s Folly, was translated almost directly from the Atelier Crenn menu. And the collaboration continued after filming wrapped: Tobman is now helping Crenn with the renovation of her restaurant.

Step 2: Make edible

Once the menu was complete, experienced food stylist Gensler had to bring it to life while considering how the food would be served on set. Filming happened back-to-back, which helped Gensler as she had to prepare like she would in a real kitchen. But in executing Crenn’s ideas, Gensler had to think about smells (you don’t want fish to stink under hot stage lights) and the actors’ dietary restrictions, since the cast would eat every course. “We had someone who was gluten-free, we had someone who was strictly vegan,” she said. “Anya, her dietary restriction is that she doesn’t eat anything with a face, which is just adorable.”

For example, in the case of Man’s Folly, Gensler substituted congee for the potentially odor-causing Dungeness crab. “For the camera, it could have been a Dungeness crab,” she said. “But anyone could eat it.” And although the sauce was written as “umeboshi plum,” Gensler used passion fruit curd, which looked “more alive” on camera. According to Gensler, Taylor-Joy loved “Man’s Folly”. “She just licked it up every time,” she says. (For what it’s worth: Mylod cites John Leguizamo as the most enthusiastic eater of the assembled group.)

Elsewhere, Gensler has used non-dairy yogurt for whipped lardo and a strawberry for liver on the “Breadless Bread Plate,” a line of “savory oils and emulsions” served without bread. Crucial to everyone involved, however, was that the performers were able to have a pleasant time eating. “What was important was to ensure that when we placed the dishes coming out of the kitchen in front of an actor, each actor could literally enjoy the meal,” Crenn said.

A course of "The menu"

A course from The Menu

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Step 3: Capture

As for the film’s imagery, Mylod wanted to point to the “absolute touchstone” for food photography: David Gelb’s Netflix series Chef’s Table. For example, each course is introduced with a close-up of the dish and on-screen text describing the ingredients – sometimes with humorous effect. Mylod was so intent on recreating the shiny, delicious feel of Chef’s Table that he brought in yellow to help him get it right. “We found that despite our best efforts – some really nice photos of our gang, of our second unit – even when I got into the editing, we still felt like we were doing this in terms of pure food porn -Don’t kill levels.” he said. “I was hungry for a little more.” So, Gelb and his cinematographer met up with Mylod and some members of The Menu’s crew at producer Adam McKay’s LA office and photographed some of Chef Slowik’s inventions themselves.

For his part, Mylod – best known for his work on “Succession” – doesn’t consider himself a “massive foodie” and was ultimately more excited about the appearance of a cheeseburger and fries than anything else. “I came away from this deep dive into this world with a newfound respect,” he says. Turns out, making good food porn is as hard as keeping a foam alive.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/11/the-menu-making-of-food-1234783715/ ‘The Menu’ Making of: Food for the Class War, in 3 Steps

Lindsay Lowe

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