In Top Girls a three course meal is served to the characters on stage as part of the famous dinner party scene. Simon, Executive Chef at the National Theatre tells us about the process of working with the Top Girls team to create the food.
We were approached with a brief from Lyndsey Turner (the director), it was 1980s nouveau cuisine which is very different to fine dining now; so very vivid colours and a minimalist look on the plate. The team also wanted something that the audience would be able to see when it was served. So we’ve got items like micro-cress, there’s a tomato rose in one of the dishes, edible flowers and little diamonds of colourful cut veg.
Once the menu items were signed off by the director, the actors then had a tasting in rehearsals. Now we’ve trained up the crew to prep and plate to a spec designed by us, so they’re using image references each night. The starter is plated before the show begins so that’s set and ready to go.
There were some challenges, especially around dietary requirements – we’re making food that fits with the dietary requirements of the actors as well as the Understudies of those roles. We’ve got vegans and veggies but steak on the menu in the play, so a meat substitute steak is served. There are also some people who are non-diary and some who just don’t eat certain foods. And then we’ve got the other challenge which is that they’re really eating on stage, in front of an audience, so they need to be able to eat and act. Lots of chewing isn’t going to work and spinach is an absolute no-go – no one wants spinach in their teeth on stage. In the play the characters finish the food and talk about enjoying it, so it also needs to be nice!
It’s good fun – from a chef’s point of view it is style over substance, overall it’s about the look more than the taste, but it’s definitely a different kind of challenge for us which is great.
Top Girls plays until 20 July. Find out more and book: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/top-girls