The Language of Menus


Menus first appeared in the U.S. in the late 1830s to guide diners through the new fashion of sequential courses or dining à la russe. At first they were simply practical, but by the second half of the 19th century they had evolved into a beautiful art form. Today’s menus tell us as much about contemporary society as they do about the chef’s vision of the food being offered. Join Darra Goldstein, founding editor of Gastronomica, and chef Mike Wiley of Portland, Maine’s Eventide, for a look at the language and artistry of menus from the 19th century up to the present day, including examples designed by such famous artists and writers as Robert Rauschenberg and Alan Ginsberg. The duo also share insights into the complex process of constructing menus and talks about what kind of vocabulary makes the final cut.

Check out their presentation and recording below:


Darra Goldstein is the Founding Editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, named the 2012 Publication of the Year by the James Beard Foundation. She has published widely on literature, culture, art, and cuisine and has organized several exhibitions, including Graphic Design in the Mechanical Age and Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500-2005, both at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. In addition to serving as Editor in Chief of the James Beard-nominated Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, she is the author of five cookbooks, including The Georgian Feast (winner of the 1994 IACP Julia Child Award for Cookbook of the Year), and her most recent Fire and Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking, a finalist for both the James Beard and IACP awards.

Goldstein is currently Series Editor of California Studies in Food and Culture (University of California Press). In the past she has consulted for the Council of Europe as part of an international group exploring ways in which food can be used to promote tolerance and diversity, and under her editorship the volume Culinary Cultures of Europe: Identity, Diversity and Dialogue was published in 2005. She has also consulted for the Russian Tea Room and Firebird restaurants in New York City and was the national spokesperson for Stolichnaya vodka when it was first introduced to the US. In 2013 she served as Distinguished Fellow in Food Studies at the Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto, and in 2016 was a Macgeorge Fellow at the University of Melbourne.

Mike Wiley Though he holds a Bachelor’s degree in literature and creative writing from Colby College and a Master’s of rhetoric from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Mike Wiley always felt called to the kitchen. His food and hospitality education began early: as a child, he frequently cooked alongside his mother and later took a summer job as a busboy. When Mike moved west to Colorado, he spent several formative years working in various restaurants to support his ski and study habits. Ultimately, he decided to pursue a career in the culinary field and moved back east in 2010 to join the team at Hugo’s, an enduring Portland standby that had evolved into a beacon of New England cuisine under the direction of chef/owner Rob Evans. After two years working under the award-winning Evans, Mike and his then colleagues, Andrew Taylor and Arlin Smith, purchased Hugo’s and established Big Tree Hospitality. The group continued to open two more restaurants, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honey Paw, to regional and national acclaim. Having been previously nominated in 2014 and 2015, Andrew and Mike won James Beard’s “Best Chef: Northeast” award in 2017. Later that year, they followed up their victory by opening Eventide Fenway in Boston. These days, Mike has a hand in the culinary direction of all of Big Tree Hospitality’s properties, as well as the group’s continued evolution and growth.




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