What the Food in ‘Twin Peaks’ Means to Kyle MacLachlan, 26 Years Later

May 23, 2017

Food is its own character in Twin Peaks. It bleeds into the rich, dark tapestry of the show’s vision of Americana, set in a town where something is not quite right. (Namely, the town's homecoming queen, Laura Palmer, was found murdered, her corpse wrapped in plastic and disposed of near a riverbank.)

Certain foods have become synonymous with the show’s iconography; I’m thinking of that carefully-laced “damn fine” cherry pie, with grooves that look like chevrons. It’s a fool’s errand to watch an episode of Twin Peaks, a show that treats diner dishes with idolatrous reverence, and escape without a craving.

MacLachlan as Dale Cooper in the original 'Twin Peaks'. Photo courtesy Kyle MacLachlan.

“Food is a place of comfort in the original Twin Peaks,” MacLachlan, the show's star, tells me; we spoke last week. I asked him about the food in David Lynch and Mark Frost’s universe—what does it mean to the people who eat it, and what does it convey about the show's deeper provocations about human behavior? “The foods that people go to are things like doughnuts and coffee. They’re very comforting. And when Dale, my character, talks about cherry pies and waxes poetic about this food, he hearkens back to all that is good and right with the world.”

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I spoke to MacLachlan last Thursday, before the reboot’s premiere this past Sunday. He had thus been instructed to be tight-lipped about the show’s reboot, which debuted on Showtime to riotous, somewhat bewildered acclaim. If some fans were expecting an easy stroke of nostalgia with this show’s premiere, they didn’t quite get it.

But MacLachlan, who plays FBI agent Dale Cooper, was muzzled by an NDA (contractually obligated to remain quiet about the new iteration of the show) during our conversation. Lynch and Frost had created a carefully guarded campaign around the show’s resurgence. The suspense has been mounting for 26 years, when the show last aired on national television. The world wasn’t quite ready for Twin Peaks in 1990, and ABC wasn’t the right home. It suffered from an era where its home network tried to broaden its appeal, compromising the show’s moody, misfit soul. After two seasons, it was cancelled. In those intervening years, Twin Peaks gained an impassioned fan base who clamored for its return.

There exists, within this fan base, a solid constituency of those who are obsessed with the show's treatment of food: hosting elaborate dinner parties, writing unauthorized cookbooks. Consider this a testament to the breadth and scope of the universe Lynch and Frost created. In spite of only being around for two seasons, Twin Peaks provided enough material for a creative venture like a cookbook of over 50 recipes, drawn from the show's narrative blueprint, to exist.

MacLachlan today. Photo courtesy Kyle MacLachlan.

Food assumes subtle, metaphoric charge in the original Twin Peaks, and Lynch and Frost wield it to sustain an unsettling mood while indicating deeper goings-on, to suggest that a placid sense of comfort is about to be ruptured. Food conveys double entendres: “When there’s suddenly a fish in the coffee percolator in the first episode, it’s a funny kind of gag. But it also has a deeper meaning, which is that—you know that saying in Hamlet, that there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark? There’s something, at the core, wrong with what’s going on.”

MacLachlan, Frost, and Lynch had been discussing a reboot since 2012, and though MacLachlan has kept busy with other rewarding endeavors—continuing to act in such shows as Portlandia, producing his own wine under the brand Pursued By Bear in collaboration with Dunham Cellars in Washington state—he has longed to play this character again. It’s a strange thing, to don the skin of a character who’s defined your career even if you haven't played him in decades. MacLachlan has no special process for adapting himself to a role; he simply reads a script many times over again and spends time steeping with the material. It's been a bit easier for him than it might seem, because MacLachlan's memories of playing this role are so vivid.

“There’s a scene where I think I was biting into a doughnut and just relishing that,” MacLachlan remembers of the original. “It’s so nice to be able to have the okay to eat a doughnut on camera and really enjoy it, and to make it meaningful.”

Look out for a Facebook Live with Kyle MacLachlan on June 1st at 1pm EST. He'll be making a cherry pie.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Kathryn D. May 30, 2017
Real people eat. It's great that Lynch uses comfort-type foods, dinner fare, etc. because we all need comfort. I once read a mystery in which food was not mentioned, the characters never ate or even thought about food, and it was conspicuous in it's absence. Kyle, you revealed your amazing acting abilities as evil Dale. I was stunned!
french_trash May 24, 2017
Love to the show and MacLachlan! It's filmed in my home town so not only do I get enjoyment out of the show's quirky vibe but also loads of nostalgia. My sister and I are definitely part of the cult following. Every time we watch it together we have doughnuts and coffee around for when the inevitable craving strikes. This new season is off to an interesting start, can't wait to see more!
Annie C. May 24, 2017
Love Twin Peaks and love this. Last summer after seeing Kyle MacLachlan at JFK, I coincidentally stumbled upon the Double R Diner after a hike, outside of Seattle. It really was some damn fine cherry pie.
Kristina S. May 31, 2017
Tweeds really good pie
HalfPint May 23, 2017
I loved Twin Peaks. Don't remember the food much except for the coffee and pie. The soundtrack was killer. It was a show that was way ahead of it's time. Made in the wrong era and aired on the wrong platform, it would be right at home now among such great shows like American Horror Story. I'm totally excited about the reboot. Any chance of getting that unauthorized cookbook?
Kayleigh May 24, 2017 here it is on Amazon!
Mayukh S. May 24, 2017
You beat me to it, Kayleigh! It's a great book, HalfPint. Hope you enjoy it. (Also beautifully photographed.)