How hard can it be? The answer is ‘very.’
It’s 10pm and Abby and I are standing in her kitchen. Our shoulders are slumped, heads low and stomachs uncomfortably full. We have spent the last five hours unsuccessfully recreating Chef Slowick’s infamous dishes from Mark Mylod’s film, The Menu. Why, you might ask? We did this for you. And now you get to bear witness to our sacrilegious recreations. You’re welcome.
When the idea for this article was first conceived, I was presumptuous enough to believe that the combination of mine and Abby’s limited culinary knowledge would result in some passable dishes. I saw the film last year and remembered the simplicity of most platings; a breadless bread plate and raw oysters seemed doable. Easy, even. Sure, the main courses looked a little more complex but realistically, how hard could it really be?
The first knock to my confidence occurred when putting together a grocery list. Those who have seen the film would know that each dish is featured on screen with a close up and description of what it entails. When putting the list together, these clips were my only point of reference. Due to Chef Slowick’s elaborate platings and unconventional ways of preparing normal ingredients, I found myself at a loss for what produce was actually needed for elements such as ‘pressure cooked vegetables.’ The reference photos were of no help either; the small disks of orange in ‘The Mess’ looked like carrots but could just as easily be strangely prepared pumpkin.
When I finally finished compiling the list of groceries, it consisted largely of question marks following terms like ‘dubious green vegetable’ and ‘a shallot? Perhaps.’ Of the ingredients I managed to identify, I knew many would have to be swapped out or cut altogether. After requesting the company card, Editor George sent through a heartfelt plea to keep the budget under $80 (have thou not heard of the cost of living crisis) and consequently, oysters and caviar were cut. When all was said and done, and charges to the company card had been approved, the final list of dishes ended up including ‘A Man’s Folly,’ ‘Memory,’ ‘The Mess,’ and the classic cheeseburger.
Dish One: Passad Eggs
Served to Chef Slowick’s diners during their attempt to escape the restaurant, the glamorous (yet seemingly simple) Passad Egg seemed like a good place for Abby and I to start. The dish was created by French Michelin Star chef, Alain Passard and was originally known as the chaud-froid oeuf or “hot-cold egg.” We went into this one in a delusional state of confidence, which quickly faded when we realised that neither of us owns an egg topper. It took approximately 40 minutes for me to saw through the tops of the eggs and a further 10 to realise that the holes i made weren’t wide enough to accommodate a spoon. Nevertheless, we pressed on.
Once the egg yolks were separated and placed back into the hacked-up egg shells, we encountered problem two—cooking them. With the holes at the top of the shells threatening to spill our last two intact yolks, Abby and I were forced to clamp each egg with kitchen tongs and hold them in boiling water until they were cooked. This process was not quick. In fact, the poaching of the yolks took so long that our pre-prepared creme fraiche mixture had warmed to a lukewarm state on the bench, dashing our hopes for a genuine chaud-froid experience. After plating we were left with a kind of ‘tepid egg,’ if you will. The taste? Borderline enjoyable but it did feel like eating a strange dip straight out of the carton. The presentation? Dubious, at best.
Dish Two: Memory (Chicken Tacos With Sissors)
Conceptually, this dish seemed very simple. It entails an entire smoked chicken breast served alongside tortillas printed with each diner’s guilty secrets. As someone who has only ever cooked chicken in a pan, the idea of smoking it threw me a little. After some light googling I came to the conclusion that our lack of a smoker, which I am embarrassingly unfamiliar with, may cause a slight issue. Instead, we chose to throw it in the oven. Did we forget to season it? Yes absolutely. However, it was cooked through so I still classify this as a win.
Our dwindling enthusiasm after the Passard Egg debacle was quickly reignited when creating our own slanderous tortillas for each other. While we didn’t have access to the state of the art laser printing device used in the film, our chopstick and food dye approach to calligraphy proved surprisingly successful. Abby made the low blow of associating me with the ACT Party (I could never betray Chloe Swarbrick like that) and I rebutted by bringing her enjoyment of Colleen Hover novels to light. Which accusation is worse? You be the judge.
Presentation-wise, I’d give us a 10/10 but I will be the first to admit that this did not taste good. It was an unseasoned grilled chicken on a plain tortilla and the only sauce we used was in the form of food colouring. I’d like to think that this would’ve been a hit had we been able to source an authentic Bresse chicken, but alas.
Dish Three: The Mess
This dish was the first one to instil in me a sense of visceral fear. Not only was I unable to identify the exact vegetables used but our disorganisation resulted in us lacking the one key element: bone marrow. Without it, the plating consists merely of a few potatoes (I think?) and some cubes of steak; so with this in mind, I got to work. In what I consider my most genius move of the whole ordeal, I managed to carve a raw potato into a vaguely bone-marrow-ish shape.
While our potatoes were by no means confit-ed, it could be said that the rest of the cooking process was reasonably successful. Our steaks were surprisingly well cooked (we seasoned them this time) and the basil garnishes made the plating undeniably passable. My criticism relates mostly to our time management style which resulted in some borderline-chilly potatoes. At least we got the froid-chaud thing right in the end.
Dish Four: Cheeseburger
In the film, the cheeseburger represents freedom. It’s the dish that allows Margo’s character a safe exit from the restaurant and one that brings Chef Slowick back to his culinary roots. This sense of liberation was poignant for Abby and I too; one more dish and we could both finally clock out. Morale was at an all time low, vape breaks were becoming more and more frequent and the kitchen had become more mess than bench. After the first three dishes, all of which we had since demolished, the sluggishness was beginning to creep in and this final push felt outside our collective capacity. Thankfully, the recipe was simple. Had we saved the Passard Eggs or The Mess for last, I’m positive tears would have been spilled.
As expected, the cooking went off without a hitch. It’s a simple dish and we’re not entirely useless. Though upon sitting down to commence the taste testing component, I noticed our brows were both firmly knotted together. With three meals already consumed, the thought of ingesting this magnitude of beef and cheese was borderline unthinkable. Once again, we persevered and both committed to a single bite. Abby’s review? “Yeah it’s decent.”
I think that Abby’s comment neatly summarises the entirety of our 5 hour culinary expedition. The dishes, while not delicious per se, were undeniably edible and as I sit here writing this article three days later, no cases of food poisoning have occurred. With these two positives in mind, I think it’s safe to classify our collective efforts as an almost-success.