SF chef on what 'The Menu' gets right about restaurants – SFGATE

Ralph Fiennes plays the unnerving fine dining chef Ralph Slowik in “The Menu.”
Many a restaurant worker who’s dealt with rude and entitled customers has indulged in a revenge fantasy at one point or another. If you could, how would you get back at the Karen who screamed at you for making her wait for a table? Or the unreasonable one-star Yelp reviewer?
New dark comedy/horror film “The Menu” indulges in that fantasy — to the extreme.
A group of nightmare customers come together for an evening at Hawthorne, a fictional exclusive fine dining restaurant located on a remote island. Each archetype is portrayed with biting satire: the deplorable finance bros there solely for the status of a $1,250 tasting menu; the pretentious food critic tut-tutting over a broken emulsion; the obnoxious foodie who won’t shut up about the “mouthfeel of the mignonette.” 
The only relief from this reprehensible crew is the unimpressed, cigarette-smoking Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), dragged along for the ride by her chef-worshipping date (Nicholas Hoult). 
Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) addresses the dining room in new horror film “The Menu.”
Executive chef Julian Slowik, played by a cold-eyed Ralph Fiennes, is ready for them. The menu is his masterpiece, and he’s painstakingly prepared every detail of the evening. But from the first course, he barely hides his contempt for the 12 visitors (un)lucky enough to grace his dining room. This is a horror film, after all — it’s clear this won’t end well for them.  
Famed San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn served as chief technical consultant for the film, creating the elaborate food seen in the movie (the components of which were all actually edible, she revealed). For about two months, she and her team at Atelier Crenn worked on developing recipes that captured the nine-course storyline. 
From a jagged rock carefully adorned in raw scallops and seaweed to the humorous “breadless bread plate” (bread is for peasants, the chef tells them, so these privileged guests are served no bread with their dipping oils), each dish exudes both the obsessiveness and coldness of the film’s nefarious chef. 
“The Island” course from “The Menu”: raw diver scallop, pickled local seaweeds and algae.
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When Crenn arrived on “The Menu” set near Savannah, Georgia, she also guided the actors on how to authentically portray a fine dining kitchen staff.
She explained to Fiennes that, as the executive chef, he must be “the conductor of the symphony,” she told SFGATE. “You have to own your confidence and to understand that you have a team around you that you need to lift up, not bring down.”
In his performance as Chef Slowik, Fiennes embodies the conductor of a symphony in the eeriest way possible — as a cult leader whose obedient disciples meet his increasingly violent demands with a resounding chorus of “yes, Chef.” With a single clap, the whole room is under his control. 
The “Breadless Bread Plate” course from “The Menu”: savoury oils and emulsions (no bread).
But rather than lifting his devoted team up, he takes them down with him in flames.
From the moment she first read the script, Crenn said she related to the character of the disillusioned star chef, despite her comparative lack of bloodthirst. 
“When you get into that situation and position, there’s so much pressure on you,” Crenn said. “We are artists, and every day, we try to create something that we really feel. And then suddenly, when you get to a certain level of artistry, then you have the noises from the outside, from the blogger or the influencer … the entitlement to tell you that what you do is not good.” 
As Slowik’s contempt for the critics and wealthy bozos who populate his dining room becomes more and more apparent, the film’s message crystallizes. As a chef, he first entered the restaurant industry because he enjoyed serving people. But now, at the high price point and level of success he’s achieved, he can no longer enjoy satisfying diners. These entitled fools fail to appreciate his art.
The “Memory” course from “The Menu”: marinated grilled chicken thigh, tortillas and green salsa cubes.
And for that, they will suffer.
Despite the violence Slowik inflicts on others, Crenn doesn’t see him as a villain. Rather, she sees him as a manifestation of the mental health issues rampant in the restaurant industry. 
It’s a theme the film circles back to frequently, most heavy-handedly in a shocking course called “The Mess,” inspired by the mental and physical havoc wreaked by a career in restaurants. 
Nightmare customers watch a scene of horror unfold in “The Menu.”
“In my industry, there is suicide and drinking and drugs, you know. We are so much in pain, and we don’t need other peoples’ pain to throw in there,” she said. “So I think it was the pressure from the outside — that’s what I understood with him — and he got fed up.”
When a particularly deplorable customer who’s dined at Hawthorne 11 times can’t even name a single dish he’s eaten there, one almost begins to root for Chef Slowik’s murderous rampage.
“I will not call him a villain,” Crenn said. “I think he’s been pushed over too far. … I think he’s like… ‘I have nothing to lose anymore. And I’m going to take you with me.’” 
Madeline Wells is a reporter for SFGATE covering food and drink in the Bay Area. She grew up in the Seattle area and received her B.A. in English and Media Studies from UC Berkeley. Prior to SFGATE, she was an associate editor at East Bay Express and freelance writer covering the Bay Area music scene. Email: madeline.wells@sfgate.com


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