Here Are The Chefs Who Get Slyly Referenced In ‘The Menu’ (And Where To Eat Their Food)

If you’re asking team Uproxx, The Menu is easily the best film of 2022. And now that it’s hit HBO Max, it’s feeding us all over again with some of the best discourse we’ve had in some time, as people dissect its themes and that famous final course. But what is it about The Menu that resonates so strongly?

For starters, the movie has a lot of things going for it — the way it combines comedy and genuine horror, the perfect cast that absolutely nails their parts both big and small (seriously, how great is every f*cking player in this movie?), and of course, the way it weaves the pleasure and displeasure of servicing people throughout its entire narrative. It gives us a lot to unpack and ruminate on. Dare I even say, marinate over. But my favorite thing about the film is the way it offers a little something for everyone, whether you want to talk about food, class, society, love, sex, passion, or all of those things at the same time.

That’s truly The Menu‘s power. It’s multifaceted and smart. And it manages both without making you, the viewer, feel dumb.

For instance, you don’t really have to know sh*t about fine dining to understand the world the script builds. In fact, as critical of fine dining and the sort of people who can afford to consume it as The Menu might seem (I’d also argue that Tyler’s cobbled-together dish is a send up of “do-it-yourself” services like Hello Fresh) it’s actually also a celebration of what makes our modern food scene so vibrant and fascinating. The skewering is not the food or even fancy food, in general — it’s about the characters assembled at this particular dinner.

As for that food (and there’s some excellent food porn in the movie), The Menu achieves haute cuisine authenticity by looking towards and borrowing inspiration from the actual giants of our contemporary food scene, as well as some great production design from Ethan Tobman and culinary consultation from Dominique Crenn, the chef behind San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn which is set to reopen its doors in 2023. In fact, let’s take some time to shout out Crenn whose insight is part of the reason Ralph Fiennes’ Julian Slowik is such a believable character. Crenn also is known for creating menus in the form of poems, so there is a bit of the chef in the DNA of Slowik himself.

You don’t need to know who Chefs René Redzepi, Massimo Bottura, or Ferran Adrià are to enjoy The Menu, but seeing the way these large culinary personalities inform the character of Julian Slowik, his island restaurant Hawthorne, and the very dishes served on the titular menu is that extra little ingredient in the film that makes it so damn fun to watch. So we’re shouting out all the references to real-life chefs that we caught on to over the course of the film and where you can experience their food right now. Let’s eat!*

*Thomas Keller’s French Laundry isn’t on this list because we stuck to super-overt references (the movie doesn’t hide its nods and winks) but Keller’s food, approach, and the way he reinvigorated the American fine dining scene in the late 90s and into the 2000s certainly looms heavily over the film.

MEET THE CHEFS:

René Redzepi — NOMA

The Menu
HBO Max

NOMA is a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Copenhagen run by chef René Redzepi and is known for its highly creative dishes and routinely recognized as the “best restaurant in the world,” by culinary obsessives, critics, and chefs.

The menu at NOMA (which at one time included something called reindeer brain custard with bee pollen) put an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients, wild-caught fish, and foraged plants.

The most NOMA-inspired dish in the movie? Definitely that first course of freshly harvested scallops, plants, flowers, and slightly frozen seawater. That dish is so ridiculous it’s almost unbelievable, but because NOMA exists we can actually say “cool bro, but we’ve seen crazier stuff!”

Where You Can Find Their Food Today:

Just this week Chef Redzepi announced that NOMA would be closing its doors in 2024 and reopening as a giant test kitchen food lab called NOMA 3.0 in the future. The reason for NOMA’s shutdown? According to Redzepi, the sort of fine dining popularized by NOMA is “unsustainable,” both “financially and emotionally.”

Many on Twitter theorized that it was because he saw a certain movie.

Massimo Bottura — Osteria Francescana

Broken Emulsion
The Menu

Another three-Michelin-star restaurant, Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana is located in Modena, Italy, and is largely recognized as one of the best restaurants for Italian cuisine with a menu that makes deep reference to history, art, and philosophy. You know, like high end food menus are wont to do.

A lot of Bottura’s spirit bubbles through The Menu and the restaurant is known for its highly exclusive dining room that contains just 12 tables. One of the chef’s most famous dishes, “Oops, I Dropped The Lemon Tart,” a dessert served upside down and smashed, is a commentary on our obsession with achieving perfection, something chef Slowik directly talks about in the movie and may be best exemplified by the broken emulsion he serves Janet McTeer’s pretentious food critic Lillian. (The idea of a single dish that put a chef on the map feels like a nod to multiple chefs but Bottura is definitely one of them.)

Where You Can Find Their Food Today:

Osteria Francescana has future booking dates open for August through December of 2023 on the restaurant’s website.

Ferran Adrià — elBulli

Spice Rack
The Menu

Chef Ferran Adrià’s elBulli was a three-Michelin star restaurant known for its highly creative menu of molecular gastronomy and was named the best restaurant in the world fives times by Restaurant Magazine.

A documentary about the restaurant called El Bulli: Cooking In Progress, gave the world its first glimpse into how much creativity and attention to detail goes into the sort of service that Slowik’s Hawthorne is riffing on.

There isn’t a dish directly inspired by elBulli’s menu in the movie but much of Chef Slowik and his crew’s attention to detail comes directly from the Cooking In Progress documentary, especially Hawthorne’s backlit spice rack (seen in passing through the movie), which is a direct homage to elBulli’s famous backlit shelf. Also, the whole “everyone on staff living together for the season” is very Noma/ elBulli.

Where Can You Find Their Food Today?

elBulli closed its doors in 2011 but Adrià newest venture, elBulli 1846 is set to open its doors in the summer of 2023 near where the original restaurant stood overlooking the Costa Brava cove in Cala Montjoi.

Adrià has kept busy since closing elBulli, mostly with the elBullifoundation as well as Tickets, a restaurant in Barcelona headed by his brother Albert Adrià which just recently closed.

Grant Achatz — Alinea

Smores
HBO Max

Grant Achatz’s Alinea is a three-Michelin star restaurant located in Chicago, the only restaurant in the city to be awarded this accolade. The restaurant is known for Achatz’s intense use of molecular gastronomy and is the reason why everyone in the hit show The Bear, no matter their position, calls each other ‘chef,’ as a sign of mutual respect in the kitchen.

That practice was popularized by Alinea. The dish most inspired by Achatz in The Menu is the final course, a Jackson Pollock-esque take on s’mores that was directly lifted from Alinea’s own final course but blown up (literally and figuratively) for the movie’s sake. According to an LA Times piece, production designer Tobman painstakingly tasked himself with figuring out how to translate this tabletop painting of a dish to a 30-by-60-foot space.

It was worth it, that overhead shot of the s’mores dish is one of the movie’s greatest single frames.

Where Can You Find Their Food Today?

Alinea is open for booking at the restaurant’s website.

Hugh Acheson — Empire State South

Menu
HBO Max

Although the build isn’t quite the same, (SPOILERS) the well-made cheeseburger at the film’s climax feels like a direct reference to Chef Hugh Acheson’s off-menu double cheeseburger from Georgia’s Empire State South.

The burger is made from local beef served on a Japanese milk bun and topped with local cheddar, housemate pickles, and a burger sauce. It’s simply, a well-made cheeseburger but it’s definitely one that is stuck in Uproxx food writer Zach Johnston’s memory. He calls it one of his favorite burgers in the country and we’re inclined to believe Zach because he knows his sh*t.

Where Can You Find Their Food Today?

Acheson is the chef/owner of Five & Ten, The National, and Empire State South, all of which are still open.

Magnus Nilsson — Fäviken

Smokehouse
HBO Max

Chef Magnus Nilsson’s Fäviken, located in Sweden, was known for its Nordic cuisine-influenced menu and the chef’s heavy involvement in the sourcing of ingredients. Chef Nilsson was known to catch the fish served on the menu himself (like the first scene on the island!) and would build out an ever-shifting prix fixe menu of multiple double-digit courses, using preserved vegetables harvested by Nilsson himself and stored from up to eight months in the restaurant’s famed root cellar.

The meat smokehouse from The Menu, built in the “Nordic tradition” is a reference to Nilsson’s famed cellar.

Where Can You Find Their Food Today?

Chef Magnus Nilsson closed Fäviken’s doors in 2019 citing burnout as the primary reason. Are you sensing a trend here?

Today Nilsson is running an apple orchard in Sweden which sounds like a way more chill way to spend your days than foraging and fishing for your menu. We’re willing to bet those apples are good.

Roy Choi — Koji

Korean Taco
YouTube

While not explicitly “fine-dining” longtime FOU (friend of Uproxx) and star chef Roy Choi’s Kogi truck is a renowned fixture in food conversations. Choi is never directly referenced in the movie but in a deleted scene McTeer’s Lillian shares a story of a Korean taco truck serving “the platonic ideal of a Korean taco,” (whatever the f*ck that means) manned by Julian Slowik.

This taco leads to the interview that puts Slowik “on the map.”

Where Can You Find Their Food Today?

Roy Choi is the co-owner, co-founder, and chef of Kogi BBQ, Chego!, Best Friend, and LocoL. All of which are still open.

Blaine Wetzel — Willow’s Inn

Island
HBO Max

As much as we’d like to only highlight the positive influences, The Menu is a dark film, so we need to mention some of the darker source material as well. A lot of director Mark Mylod’s inspiration for The Menu seems to have come from Blaine Wetzel’s notorious Willows Inn, a restaurant that was profiled by the New York Times last year over its “genius chef” and the restaurant’s toxic work environment.

The restaurant was located on the island of Lummi, part of the San Juan archipelago of Washington state (clearly where the movie takes place), 100 miles to the north of Seattle, and is only reachable by ferry. The island enjoys forests, farms, and fisheries and attracted food obsessives far and wide to come for multi-course dinners that made use of (or claimed to) the island’s many resources, from freshly foraged flowers to salmon pulled straight out of the surrounding waters, which are viewable from the dining room.

Starting to sound familiar?

It’s Hawthorne to a tee, and the many allegations of verbal abuse and sexual harassment of the female employees and residents of the island by male kitchen staff members as well as allegations of physical and verbal abuse and a generally toxic environment created by Chef Wetzel, all bring The Menu’s dish “Man’s Folly” to mind. Chef Wetzel has since denied the allegations but we’d like to note that the Times spoke to 35 former employees and the restaurant subsequently suffered a mass exodus of chefs after the story went live.

Despite the allegations, people kept flocking to Willow’s Inn even after the New York Times story dropped.

Where You Can Find Their Food Today

The Willows Inn is currently closed and considering the property is now owned by Lighthouse Mission Ministries, a nonprofit whose mission is to end homelessness, it doesn’t look like it will ever return. As for Chef Wetzel, it doesn’t look like he’s currently cooking anywhere right now but his wife, Chef Daniela Soto-Innes is set to open a new restaurant called Rubra in Nayarit Mexico in the spring of this year.

Soto-Innes joined Wetzel at Willows Inn following the fallout from the New York Times story bringing along some of her staff with her, so her touch was part of the Willow’s Inn’s final months. According to Bon Appétit, Wetzel will not be involved in Soto-Inne’s newest project.

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