• Festivals

TIFF 2022: The Menu

Set in the world of haute cuisine, The Menu is a delicious combination of satire, horror, and comedy starring Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy, with a supporting cast which includes Judith Light and Nicholas Hoult. The Menu is in some ways representative of our current foodie culture, which entered the zeitgeist some decades ago when waiters began to spout the origin story of each ingredient, culminating in the all-important phrase ‘farm to table.’ The Menu takes the serious business of fine dining to hilarious and absurd heights.

High-art chef Slowik (Fiennes), brimming with perfectionism and pretense, is in his element in this restaurant, so exclusive that it has its own island. Tyler, a food enthusiast, well versed in the latest in culinary innovations, is played by Nicholas Hoult. An ardent fan of Slowik, Tyler is an eager patron of the restaurant; however, his date Margot, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, doesn’t buy into the pomp and circumstance of fine dining, and is, in fact, contemptuous of it. She simply wants to eat a good meal.


Along with director Mark Mylod (Succession) and comedy writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy (Seth Meyers, John Oliver, and the Onion TV series), some of the actors assembled at TIFF at a Q and A after the screening. Mylod began the proceedings with a self-deprecating joke to the audience, “Thanks for not walking out.” He introduces some of the actors, including Fiennes and Light, with Taylor-Joy joining via satellite from Australia, where she is shooting Mad Max Furiosa.

Taylor-Joy answers the question about whether her relationship with food has changed since working on the film. “Honestly, it introduced me to a whole bunch of food, and that was a treat. I don’t think I would have gone there if I hadn’t been part of this film. I’m a terrible cook and so this has increased my respect [for cooking], seeing the way that people use it as a form of art. That was something I was not privy to prior to the film.”

Fiennes adds, “Well, I’m really interested in food, I love food. I don’t think working on this changed my love of food. I’m not sure I would really like the kind of food that I make in the film, but I’m interested in the psychology of trying to perfect something and getting lost. I think the thing with Stowik is that he lost touch with the thing that moved him to cooking in the first place,” he explains. “But I don’t think I would want to pay for the stuff in the movie. I love uncomplicated, fresh ingredients which aren’t messed around with.”


As for the origin story of the movie, it started with writer Will Tracy. “Many years ago, my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Norway, in Bergen. I’m annoyingly obsessed with food, and so whenever I go to a new city, I search out what’s the place in town to go to. And everyone explained we should go to this place where you make a reservation, and you wait on the dock. A boat picks you up and takes you out 25 minutes to a private island, and there’s nothing on the island but the restaurant. And so, we went.” He chuckles. “I’m also kind of a grand champion claustrophobe, so when I got to the island, I realized I was going to be on this island for four hours, and I don’t know these people. So, I was a bit anxious, and my wife was trying to calm me down a bit,” he recalls. “I did feel when I was sitting at the table that this could be a good idea for something, being stuck at a restaurant and you can’t leave.”

As to whether the experience was worth it, he says, “Well it was not very good. It really did feel as if you were being held captive somewhere,” he says, and continues. “It was eight very small portions of lukewarm scallop. It had its moments, but I don’t think it was great.” Though, of course, that experience spawned a great idea for a film.

And while audiences have loved watching Fiennes play many a villain in his astounding career, in such films as the Harry Potter series, Quiz Show, In Bruges, Red Dragon, and Schindler’s List, he doesn’t agree that Chef Slowik fits into that category. He considers. “Well, The Constant Gardner was a villainous role, but I don’t think Chef Slowik is a villain,” he smiles. “I’m on his side.”