Welcome to Dream Dinner Party, where we ask notable figures to describe just that: the dinner party of their dreams.
What is the opposite of a dream dinner party? Ask the guests in The Menu, John Leguizamo’s new film. In the movie, lucky diners score a table at an exclusive restaurant, only to have that meal turn into their worst nightmare. Thankfully the actor-writer-producer’s imagined get-together is much less scary.
It’s your dream dinner party. Who gets the invite?
Eduardo Galeano. He wrote Open Veins of Latin America, a history of our empire’s colonization and near genocide, the destruction of our religion and language, and then the empire’s exploitation by Europe and the US for another 500 years up to now. It’s one of the most incredible books I’ve read about Latin culture. I’d also include Cantinflas, a great Latin comedian—one of the funniest people I’ve ever watched in film. He could do political satire, goofy physical schtick, and wordplay. I’ve never seen a comedian embody all those things. My third would be Héctor Lavoe, this great, great salsa singer from the ’70s.
What’s on the menu?
When I have dinner parties, we hire a chef. For this one, I’m thinking about Colombian chef Stephanie Bonnin of La Tropikitchen, who sells food from her New York apartment. She makes this incredible meal out of Indigenous foods. She uses a traditional method to make corn: Treat it with lye so that it gets really soft. And her empanadas, wow! I also love the Colombian chef Juan Manuel “Juanma” Barrientos. With the cast of The Menu, we went to El Cielo, his restaurant in DC. They had us bathe in chocolate. They pour melted chocolate in a bowl and you wipe your hands and your face, and then you can eat it. So we’re all cracking up because you feel like you’re a five-year-old who’s being naughty. I’d have those two design a menu.
Since your guests are bathing in chocolate, are you asking them to dress up?
It’s a classy casual party. You don’t have to wear black-tie but, you know, look sharp. Put some effort into it.
What do you talk about?
We Latin people can be political. We’d get into politics and then some history. I would love to talk music with Héctor Lavoe, maybe he can break the beat down for us a little bit. And then we gotta make fun of each other. A little self deprecation. I insist on that!
If you could invite one character from The Menu to the party, who would it be?
Chef Slowik, played by Ralph Fiennes. It’s the craziest movie I’ve ever been a part of. These wealthy guests are all invited to a fancy, upscale restaurant on an island. But there’s a twist: Every guest is picked off for a different kind of deadly sin. Mine is narcissism.
You’re also known for your theater work, such as Mambo Mouth. In between shows and rehearsals, where do you eat in the Theater District in NYC?
Ichiran. They specialize in one type of ramen and you can add different ingredients to it. Then you sit in these isolated booths where you’re not supposed to use your phone or talk.
Do you ever cook at home?
I make an incredible chicken. I season it with cumin, salt and pepper, a little oregano, tons of fresh garlic, put olive oil on it, and then I stick it in the oven at 550° until it crisps on the outside. Then I reduce it to 400°. When it comes out, the skin is really crispy. I try to roast a chicken every Sunday, particularly in the fall. It makes the house smell delicious.