The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Is Secretly About the Power of Cooking

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Warning! If you haven’t watched the show yet, there are major spoilers ahead.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime is a retro smorgasbord, served up with jokes and a jaunty soundtrack. Every episode is studded with snacks and meals — chips snatched from a bowl at a party, bourbon paired with homemade babka. When no one quite understands each other, when everything is uncomfortable, food is the connection.

The premiere starts with a food faux pas. A joyous newly minted Mrs. Maisel ends her wedding speech with “And yes, there is shrimp in the egg rolls.” Her shellfish punchline nearly ruins the family’s relationship with their rabbi, but the first episode kicks off with a culinary triumph: The Maisels have secured an RSVP from the rabbi, who will be joining them to break fast on Yom Kippur. To prepare, Midge shows off her formidable moxie in the butcher shop. She grabs the rabbi’s favorite lamb chops, pays off irate fellow patrons with meat, and snags a handful of black-and-white cookies for the road.

Food gets everyone what they want. A well-chosen meat lures the rabbi to dinner. A brisket presented in a Pyrex and the promise of future latkes secures Midge’s husband Joel’s spot in an open mic lineup. Love is a dish created to facilitate dreams, a long meticulously set table waiting for tomorrow’s guests. It’s making curry and ordering Chinese just in case the curry is terrible. And later, when, faced with Joel’s joke plagiarism, Midge’s first reaction is to remember when a friend stole her meatloaf recipe and she “nearly stabbed her eyes out.”

Joel and Midge’s relationship is shown through a series of apartment scenes that start with Champagne and Chinese takeout on the floor and cycles through dinner parties, New Year’s parties, a sloshing mishmash of food and drink. She mourns her marriage through food. “I’m going to get elbowed out of the butcher shop,” she wails, “so other women can get the best lamb chops, other women with husbands to shop for!”

The first uncomfortable, post-breakup moments happen over a joint family dinner where the two families tussle through each dish. Midge’s mother-in-law reveals that she left chicken soup in the freezer the last time she was at their apartment, and that she keeps matzo meal in her purse. “I want soup we understand. What even is this?” she demands, hovering over a pot of chicken consommé. Dinner starts with retro appetizers, deviled eggs and martinis with olives, gougeres, and olives. It ends with shouting, martinis, and threats.

Even Midge’s first steps into comedy come with a tasting menu. When Susie comes over to coach her, Midge sets out tiny Bundt cakes with pink frosting and violets and a rosy pitcher of iced tea. Midge and Susie’s friendship is later solidified over post-comedy hot dogs and fries, trading bites for secrets. And though writer Herb Smith’s jokes turn out to be a dud, he can definitely write a deli order: “A half pastrami on rye, a half chopped liver on challah, a stuffed cabbage, some kasha varnishkes, and some rugelach.”

When a celebration dinner is ruined, Midge and her father go home to smash whole walnuts with a frying pan and feast on hidden butter cookies. When Joel and Midge attempt to co-parent after an acrimonious breakup, they connect over homemade macaroni and cheese, eaten straight from the pan. When Midge’s parents regard her as a sometimes troubling mystery, there are still family dinners, toast and grapefruit in the morning, Parisian cocoas sipped amid the dirty dishes at the end of the meal.

Change is scary. Relationships are complicated. Taking creative risks can be completely dizzying. Take a note from Mrs. Maisel. Stay sharp, stay focused, and definitely stay fed.

A few Mrs. Maisel-inspired recipes for impressing rabbis, finishing off deli orders, and mending newly broken hearts.