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  • Ally Rizzo

“The Menu”: A Delicious, Yet Satirical Representation of the Overlooked Culinary Arts

*Contains SPOILERS*

Mark Mylod’s The Menu enticed audiences this past January when it joined HBO Max’s array of new movies. Following the experiences of a small group of wealthy customers who could frankly care less about the culinary arts, the film shows the despair of chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) when customers take his work for granted.

Slowik exhibits the frustrations common among many creative professionals, ranging from graphic designers to ballet dancers to jazz musicians. Too often, the skills and passions associated with various art forms are considered unnecessary to developing cultures and community dynamics. This is an ironic concept, considering the massive impact the arts have on society.

If you think about it, the culinary arts influence us in ways you may not expect. Cooking has endless effects on cultural progress, since food brings people together and stirs powerful conversation.

The James Beard Foundation, a world-renowned nonprofit advocating for creating a better future through cooking, supports many culinary artists who participate in activism through their food. A delectable example is the Hot Bread Kitchen organization, started by Jessamyn Rodriguez, which gives job opportunities and baking skills to women formerly incarcerated or recently immigrated to the US. Whereas Rodriguez didn’t originally intend to use her business as a form of activism, she later decided to change her standpoint in light of political events putting these women in danger.

Cookbooks are another prominent way that food can affect societal progress. Sean Sherman, author of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, made it his mission to encourage awareness regarding Native American culture through cuisine. Indigenous communities, although an integral part of the evolution of North America and the nations within it, are misunderstood by many. Through the usage of a common aspect of life for everyone, food, individuals can connect and learn about each other, regardless of what cultural background they have. Sherman’s work to make these recipes and dishes more accessible to everyone has allowed the cuisine of Native Americans to be appreciated, therefore leading to a more educated society dynamic in regards to these specific cultures.

These themes of societal change through food are easily relatable to ideas featured within The Menu. Chef Slowik’s character is vengeful throughout the film for a good reason; his efforts to tell stories through his food are unsuccessful because of the tough, privileged crowd that doesn’t appreciate nor respect the work put into his dishes. He was unable to create a lasting impact on his customers– instead of focusing on the meaning that his recipes held, they just focused on the price and taste of the food itself. Since he couldn’t effectively express himself through cuisine, Slowik attempted to administer his own form of activism.

Does this mean that he resorted to violence? Unfortunately.

Although deciding to kill all the people that harmed his craft wasn’t exactly the most ethical decision in the world, he got his point across. The community he served overlooked the subtle details present in their food that would have taught them about the life and struggles of Chef Slowik. Instead, they focused on concepts such as nourishment, prestige and clout of the restaurant and the financial status they had allowing them to afford to eat these dishes in the first place.

“The Menu '' opens its viewers’ eyes to how the world of cuisine makes a much more significant impact than simply providing enjoyment. Menus and dishes that have been expertly crafted are so much more than the physical foods on the plate and their accompanying price tag.There is meaning from each and every dish, stemming from the chef’s artistry and self-expression. Society has progressed substantially in its advocation for social justice and other prevalent issues over the decades. Still, some of its great strides might not have been possible if it wasn’t for those that used the power of food to make a statement.

How can we, as a society, find more ways to bond through food? Whether it is sharing a homemade meal with loved ones, ordering takeout, or going to a fancy restaurant for the night, all types of food have meaning. In a time when society is becoming increasingly broken, it is essential that we, as a community, find ways to connect despite our differences. As Chef Slowik would say, “Accept. Accept all of it. And forgive”.


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