rebecca is a food critic now

I Ate the Shawn Mendes Bowl the Way Shawn Intended

Shawn Mendes has shown that he likes an avocado. So guac isn’t optional in the Shawn Mendes Bowl. It’s mandatory. Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photos by Chipotle, Shawn Mendes August 2019/Instagram

Shawn Mendes is a fast-casual pop star, which is a few notches below fine pop dining (divas and vocalists) but a step up from fast-food pop star (see: the Chainsmokers). Sure, he can occasionally be indulgent and very delicious, owing to an ecstatic charisma and stage presence, but most of his music amounts to a wide-appeal sonic work lunch. And Mendes’s flagship collaboration with actual tulpa Camila Cabello, “Señorita,” is the Chipotle of songs. Both the song and the chain are Latin-adjacent ubiquities, too bland to be offensive and too popular to write off.

But I like Shawn Mendes, and I like Chipotle. I don’t order Chipotle when I’m craving Mexican food, but I do order it when I’m craving Chipotle. I like the “bowl of stuff” mode of culinary innovation in general, and Chipotle is one of the most reliable purveyors of bowl stuff. So when sweet, earnest boy Shawn Mendes tweeted sweetly and earnestly that “I have my own bowl !!” I knew that I needed!! To try!! His bowl!!

The promotional post promised that for every one of Mendes’s very own bowls, “$1 will be donated to support youth-led sustainability initiatives.” This, to me, is a word salad. A word burrito bowl, if you will. Who are these youths? What, exactly, are they, uh, initiating to sustain? I clicked on a link that took me to a page called “,” which I think is the name of a DJ I saw open for SOPHIE once. The page explained that the euthanasia-legibility initiatives or whatever were part of “The Shawn Mendes Foundation, a fiscally sponsored project of the Social Impact Fund.” When rabbit holes lead to other branching rabbit holes, we call that a “meerkat burrow.”

The Shawn Mendes Foundation website says it “seeks to inspire Shawn’s audience, the youth generation of today, to learn about those causes that they are passionate about, and help empower them to use the voice they have to bring change to the world by taking action & giving back.” This threatened to be a “Scott’s Tots”–esque load of empty prepositions before I found the “Charities We Work With” section, which has real, worthy organizations like SickKids and the American Red Cross and something called the Ryan Seacrest Foundation in it*.

My editor asked me if there are Chipotles in Canada, which is fair enough because we don’t have a lot of things the U.S. has, like Trader Joe’s or Target or a privatized, for-profit prison system. “Of course,” I said naïvely, like the dumbest baby ever to live. You see, I’ve been staying with my family for the past few months in a locked-down ski town two hours north of Toronto, and I couldn’t fathom a 2021 in which Chipotles weren’t dotting the map like black beans in my sofritas. Feeling like a season-one Schitt’s Creek character, I thought my Google Maps was being sarcastic when it told me the nearest Chipotle was a one-hour, 38-minute drive away. Too proud to tell my editor this, and too devoted to the cause of reviewing musicians who branch out into fast-food partnerships because democracy dies in darkness, I bribed my brother to drive me there.

The in-app ordering experience was the easiest I’ve encountered so far, with the Shawn Mendes Bowl available right there on the Chipotle home page. This seems like the sort of benign detail that shouldn’t be notable, but if you’ve read our McDonald’s reviews, you know it can be hard for these fast-food apps to get their shit together after making one of these collab announcements. Speaking of, now’s the time for the in-memoriam segment of this Shawn Mendes Bowl review, in which we remember a fallen friend: the McDonald’s across from the West 4th basketball courts. You never had what I was trying to get, but darned if you weren’t my first stop anyway.

The only problem with the ordering experience was the part where it told me the Shawn Mendes Bowl was $15.40 CAD. This is around five Canadian dollars more than a comparable item at Chipotle. If you’re going to make your item the most expensive thing on the menu, dare we say two dollars from every purchase should go toward youth groups? The reason for the price bump is that the full Shawn Mendes experience includes both guac and Chipotle’s newest menu item: cauliflower rice. Chipotle launched it as an option on January 4, and it’s not entirely inconceivable that the Shawn Mendes Bowl doubles as a promotion for it. Chipotle makes a point of advertising that this cilantro-lime cauliflower rice is “compliant with Keto, Whole30®, Paleo, Vegan, and Vegetarian diets,” with only four carbs per serving. You could imagine Mendes’s personal trainer baby-birding this keto-paleo concoction into his mouth for energy before a workout.

We passed the time on the two-hour drive for a Shawn Mendes Bowl talking about Canadian singers who have had Lyme disease: Justin Bieber, Avril Lavigne, Shania Twain. If you’re a singer and you’re Canadian and you haven’t yet been diagnosed with Lyme disease, are you just constantly looking over your shoulder like you have some sort of target (-shaped tick bite) on your back? Carly Rae Jepsen, steer clear of tall grass.

Lotsa farmland on the extremely long drive to Chipotle. Photo: Rebecca Alter

We also played Mendes’s 2020 album, Wonder, and we thought it was a bold choice for him to have a Christmas song and a jazz standard on it until we realized we were listening to the “Holiday Deluxe” version. Wonder really brings out the best of Mendes’s persona, which is that of a starter Pokémon that’s in its middle evolution between twink and himbo. When he gently sings, “Look up at the stars, they’re like pieces of art” and “I wonder, wouldn’t it be nice to live inside a world that isn’t black and white,” his voice exudes the same wide-eyed, open-to-the-world curiosity of Insane Clown Posse’s “Miracles.” By the time we hit “Wonder (Surf Mesa Remix),” I was singing, “I wonder, wouldn’t it be nice to turn a cauliflower into rice?”

We pulled up to the Chipotle, which is located in a plaza in the town of Vaughan, mere blocks from the Canada’s Wonderland theme park, where Mendes himself famously performed for the season-seven finale of the Canadian teen singing competition The Next Star in 2014. This made the whole situation feel deeply authentic.

Our order was ready on a little shelf, and we took it back to hunch over in the car because we had driven two hours to eat the Shawn Mendes Bowl in a way that felt true to his Pickering roots: in a suburban Ontario parking lot. The Shawn Mendes Bowl has the following: chicken, guacamole, cauliflower rice, black beans, corn, and lettuce. Note the lack of sour cream and cheese, which I chose to interpret as a nod to dairy being bad for singers’ voices. I couldn’t even make out the cauliflower rice through the thicket of lettuce, but I got a big, warm whiff of hot cauli air rising up from the bottom. Pungent.

Those high chairs were blocking off the eating area, but there was … a man there hiding behind the wall, eating? Photo: Rebecca Alter

My brother’s girlfriend, who came with us on this thrilling cultural road trip, immediately noted that the cauliflower rice was “very salty.” I took a bite that tried to capture every element of the Shawn Mendes Bowl in one, and holy shit, was it ever very salty. The kind of salty where it’s sharp and it hurts. The texture was also a level of mushy that I was not prepared for — not that mush is unwelcome in a Chipotle bowl, but this was closer to a gristly cauliflower pudding. I got zero lime or cilantro from it. Cauliflower carb impostors are a trendy ingredient right now, but you would be better off just getting a Chipotle salad sans rice than paying for this upgrade. I could no longer envision Mendes’s trainer feeding him this bowl.

Come thru, LETTUCE. Photo: Rebecca Alter

The other elements were aggressively fine. Chicken is never my first choice at Chipotle, but I chose to interpret this, too, as an ode to Shawn Mendes, on account of both him and chicken being white meat. The lettuce was fresh. The beans were nothing to write home about. My brother’s girlfriend was going to throw away her salad dressing and 80 percent of her guac, but I saved it because I love eating other people’s garbage. I added her guac and dressing (honey vinaigrette) to my Shawn Mendes Bowl, which perverted his vision but provided some sorely needed notes of acid and brightness. You see, the Shawn Mendes Bowl has neither tomatoes nor jalapeños nor salsa — only corn salsa, which isn’t salsa; it’s corn. This made me unspeakably sad. I pictured Camila Cabello making Shawn dinner and the dinner upsetting his tummy and it being a whole thing. The car now smelled like cauliflower and sadness as we wheeled it around and started our two-hour journey back.

The brown stuff is the “cilantro-lime cauliflower rice.” I know. Photo: Rebecca Alter

I would recommend the Shawn Mendes Bowl “with modifications,” but that would just make it a Whoever-You-Are Bowl — which, when you think about it, is what Shawn Mendes would want. His foundation is all about promoting being true to yourself, especially if you’re youth but maybe even if you’re not. “I wonder, when I cry into my hands, I’m conditioned to feel like it makes me less of a man,” Mendes sings. He doesn’t want you to let anyone tell you to be or feel anything you’re not. So to respect him, please order whatever you want at Chipotle, or at least wait until it irons out the kinks with this cauliflower rice.

Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Photo: Rebecca Alter

Back at home, my mom asked to try my cold, half-eaten Shawn Mendes Bowl that we had expended so much time and gas to retrieve. Before we’d even left, my mom solemnly told me, “You know there’s no actual bowl, right?” thinking that the Shawn Mendes Bowl was some sort of commemorative kitchenware, like the collectible plates McDonald’s used to do for Disney movies. She couldn’t understand all this hubbub over a bowl that was a Shawn Mendes Bowl in name alone. So she tried a bite. She agreed it was salty. I wrote down exactly what she said: “It tastes like a mistake.”

*This story originally included a reference to a youth choir that we later learned was composed of Parkland school shooting victims. It was not our intent to make a joke at their expense, and in the interest of appropriateness and sensitivity we have removed that portion of the story.

I Ate the Shawn Mendes Bowl the Way Shawn Intended