How Dominique Crenn created the food in ‘The Menu’

Ralph Fiennes in THE MENU. | Photo by Eric Zachanowich, courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Ralph Fiennes in THE MENU. | Photo by Eric Zachanowich, courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

One of the first courses served at Hawthorn, the eerily immaculate restaurant that serves as the backdrop for Mark Mylod’s The menu, is a mound of rock topped with barely frozen seawater and crammed aquatic greenery. But this dish – like many others in the film that require tweezers to assemble and can only be described as “thalassic” – is not simply a food accessory.

Production designer Ethan Tobman (Free Guy, The Report, Chamber) collaborated with star chef Dominique Crenn to design a tasting menu that would not only help the plot descend into darkness, but also nurture the actors involved (Anya Taylor Joy, Nicholas Hoult, to name a few castings). The idea was that after devouring breadless bread plates, scissor-pierced chicken, and a few incriminating tacos, they would experience the range of emotions stirred by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy’s provocative script.

From the start of filming, the production crew knew they had to work alongside a culinary expert, and Crenn, the only female chef in the United States to earn three Michelin stars for her San Francisco restaurant, l ‘Atelier Crenn, was the first choice.

While the script described certain proteins or moods, Chef Crenn took her own creative liberties in imagining each dish. “We knew things should start off feeling very, very normal, but as the night wears on it gets a little more grotesque,” ​​Tobman told Thrillist. “And it was a delicate balance to play with Chef Crenn and his team – to start with water, then move to land-based protein, and then slowly become a little more surreal.”

Chef Dominique Crenn on THE MENU set. | Photo by Eric Zachanowich, courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

How they designed the courses in ‘The Menu’

Hawthorn is located on a coastal island in the Pacific Northwest and its leader, Chief Slowik, played by Fiennes, harvests organic forms from the surrounding ecosystem. “One of the things Chef Crenn taught me early on was the importance of vessels when preparing a dish,” says Tobman. “When you go to the Louvre and see Van Gogh, the art is of paramount importance, but the setting should also tell the story of the work.”

The sea-inspired rock dish is one of many dishes in this film that plays with the raw materials of life and death. Crenn, like Slowik, believes dishes should tell stories and describes his creation with a chilling duality. “When you go to the top of a rock, you can see the beauty, but it’s also to the top of the rock that you can fall,” she says. Tobman adds, “For me, Chef Slowik is not inspired by nature. He is haunted by nature, because nature is perfect, and he can never approach this perfection. It destroys nature creating a perfect dining experience.

In the film, Slowik reminds his guests that each individual lesson will only make sense when they have experienced the last one. It’s an idea Crenn knows well in his own restaurant, where diners are invited to take part in his own life’s journey. “It’s like a piece of music,” she explains. “When you look at a piece of music, you can see the beginning and the end, and you might think, ‘These notes don’t make sense.’ Then, suddenly, it all clicks together.” But as Crenn injects a sense of joy into his meals at Atelier Crenn, Hawthorn’s goal is to create foods that contain an emotional coldness – beautiful, but dead. .

“Chef Slowik is not inspired by nature. He is haunted by nature.

To create the lush close-ups of Slowik’s dishes, the team enlisted the help of Netflix creator David Gelb Chef’s table. “He really created a visual dictionary of how modern people think food should be slaughtered,” Tobman says. But in the fictional world of Hawthorn, where there is a strict no-photography policy, the beauty of every dish lies in its transience, and it’s a belief that Crenn subscribes to in his own restaurant. “We live in an age where photography is 24/7. For me, sometimes that’s a problem because it disconnects you from the experience that we strive to provide,” she says. “But at the same time, we also live in a world where we have to be a bit more flexible.”

The inspiration behind the kitchen

The production team took inspiration from a number of famous restaurants, past and present: Fäviken by Magnus Nilsson in Sweden; El Bulli by Ferran Adrià in Catalonia; Thomas Keller’s French laundry in Sonoma; and Noma by René Redzepi in Copenhagen. Like most trendy restaurants, Hawthorn features an open kitchen with a blazing fire.

“I really wanted to nail the idea that the chef could look at you, but you couldn’t look at the chef,” Tobman says. He built the kitchen to look like a church, with a cross on the back wall. The floor on which Slowick walks is raised, as if he were preaching from a pulpit, while the rest of the cooks work on a lower level. “It’s like they’re genuflecting,” Tobman says. “They are his followers and he is the high priest.”

Inside, Tobman wanted to honor the natural elements that are integral to any chef: fire and water. “So water should be part of the front-of-house experience and fire should be the back-of-the-house experience,” he explains. “There’s a fireplace on the wall right next to the window and the reflection makes it look like the fire is going out in the water.” The decorator even went so far as to treat the furnishings the same way a chef would treat their food. “The wood in the restaurant is charred, it’s bleached, it’s bleached, some of it is steamed,” he explains. “I wanted it to feel like Slowik was cooking the restaurant.”

To prepare for her role as Chef Slowik, Fiennes spent a lot of time on set with Crenn, absorbing how she operates in the kitchen. “It wasn’t about teaching him to cook,” she explains. “It was about him to understand the character – what it means to be a conductor.” Crenn basically showed Fiennes how to be the conductor of a symphony. “It’s all about movement, detail, music and layering,” she says. the way you enter the kitchen, by the way you look at things.

To keep things precise, Crenn held a bootcamp for the cast of the kitchen staff — which consisted of both real chefs and actors — as well as the waiters and sommelier. “It was authenticity to the teeth,” Crenn says. “It was almost like I was opening a new restaurant.” The chef felt the cast embodied the ethos of the restaurant industry: “Today may be great, but tomorrow will be even better,” she says.

“It was authenticity to the teeth…. It was almost like opening a new restaurant.

But perhaps Crenn’s greatest contribution was uncovering the psychology of a character like Slowik, who was tarnished by the incredible pressure placed on him by the food industry. Though she helped design the “Man’s Folly” course, a commentary on the industry’s inherent sexism, Crenn believes Slowik is not only damaged by the toxicity of the kitchen interior, but also by the toxicity of the outside world.

“We work 20 hours a day and after everything we do, it will take someone, who hasn’t even spent a second with us, to judge and say, ‘Ah, that’s too salty.’ It depresses us mentally. For Crenn, it was important to find a weak point in Slowik’s character. “Food is at the heart of every human being, so of course there will be some humanity there,” she says.

Ethan Tobman on the set of THE MENU. | Photo by Eric Zachanowich, courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The final dessert scene

The final course of Chef Slowik’s meal is a restaurant-encompassing dessert, with an array of syrupy swirls and drips, not unlike the work of culinary luminaries Grant Achatz or Massimo Bottura.

“How do you make a 60 by 30 foot dessert? said Tobman, noting a remarkable challenge for the crew. “It was like a bunch of geeks running at Burning Man.”

For Tobman, the experience highlighted just how similar preparing food is to making movies. “These are fleeting experiences that have a finite amount of time. They are very structured. You have an instant family. You are creating an artificial environment. And a lot of us who work in film start out working as waiters and chefs,” he explains.

Crenn enjoyed working with Tobman so much that she hired him to work with her on the new Atelier Crenn redesign. She hopes viewers will leave this film with a little more respect for the magic that happens at the back of the house. “I want people to be careful when they go to a restaurant and understand that behind the door there are amazing people working so hard to make sure they feed us, in so many ways.”

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Jessica Sulima is a writer on Thrillist’s Food & Drink team. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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