Monday, December 13, 2010

A conversation with Eat Pray Love food stylist Susan Spungen

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Food stylist Susan Spungen
Things I learned last week from Susan Spungen, food stylist to the stars:
  • Central Rome is a difficult place in which to make a food movie. When Spungen was working on the food scenes for Eat Pray Love, the city of Rome limited the number of trucks the production was able to park on the narrow, stone-paved streets. Which meant Spungen was making and plating the food for the shots in a kitchen several blocks away, and production assistants were literally running through the streets with dishes held over their heads.
  • When you're cooking on location, be nice to the local chefs. Spungen had to make pizza for one scene, but the only equipment she was assigned was a portable oven. She knew she wouldn't get the blistered crust of a true Italian pizza, "and besides," she said, "we were in a city full of good pizza places. Why should I come to Rome from the U.S. and make the pizza?" She got a local restaurant to deliver the goods on short notice, and everyone was happy.    
  • If the food scenes are being shot outside, pray for cool weather. The mercury hit 100 degrees in Rome when they shot the outside cafe scene in Eat Pray Love. It was supposed to be fall, so the cast had to wear sweaters and eat pasta in every take. Keeping plates looking fresh in the heat of a summer day is tough. "We just kept switching them out," said Spungen.
  • Don't worry about poisoning the cast. It was hot during the shoot for the Eat Pray Love food scenes, but none of the plates stayed out long. As soon as the take was over, one plate went away and another appeared in its place. Besides, actors only eat as much as they have to - a bite or two, if that. (Julia Roberts "did what she had to do," Spungen said, but her implication was clear: Movie stars don't eat a lot of pasta voluntarily.)
  • Play with your pasta. When plating the spaghetti for Eat Pray Love, Spungen used her hands to twist it into a rope, which she coiled around the plate in a spiral. I forgot to ask her whether she had to find a dozen sprigs of basil that looked exactly the same for the sake of continuity. That sounds challenging.
  • Sadly, most food used in movie shoots goes to waste. Remember the huge piles of chopped onions in Julie & Julia, another film on which Spungen worked? Every time I watch that scene I dream about onion soup. In reality, those onions went into the trash, as does most other food used on film sets and in magazine photo shoots. The crew does get some, but by the time the filming and photography is done, the food is mostly too far gone to eat.
  • Shop 'til you drop. Buy a lot of everything. If you're setting up a close shot of the perfect BLT, for example, you need the perfect tomato, the perfect lettuce, the perfect bread, the perfectly cooked piece of bacon. To find the prince, one must look through and cook and slice a lot of frogs. And, if you're creating the perfect BLT for a magazine shoot (Spungen styles food for still photos, too), you're often doing it completely out of season, making procurement that much more difficult. Spungen says she buys everything she can get her hands on, then sorts through the stacks to find the best specimens.
Thanks to Sony Home Entertainment for arranging the event at Vincenti Ristorante with Spungen and Eat Pray Love producer Dede Gardner. Eat Pray Love is now available on Blu-ray and DVD - a great stocking stuffer for the food fanatics in your life, don't you think?

So nice to see many of my Los Angeles food blogging buddies at this lunch: Daydreamer Desserts, La Fuji Mama, Family Fresh Cooking, Yvonne in LA, Sippity Sup, The Enchanted Cook, Teenie Cakes....

Daydreamer Desserts, La Fuji Mama, Susan Spungen

Dede Gardner and Susan Spungen

Cookies at Vincenti

Family Fresh Cooking and La Fuji Mama in an intense conversation

Amuse bouche: roasted tomato with burrata

Butter lettuce salad with polenta croutons

Winter decorations at Vincenti


    Nancy said...

    Hi Erika!

    Looks like you all had a wonderful time!! That new camera is paying off.. your photos are gorgeous!!

    Toni Tralala said...

    I'm salivating over the salad! :)

    It's sad how a lot of food in sets whether on tv or film goes to waste. :( It looks like you had a blast! <3

    Jennifer (Savor) said...

    My jaw dropped open as soon as I saw this post AND you all got to go. So sad I am not in Cali

    Erika Kerekes said...

    @Nancy - thank you for the compliment on my photos. I'm trying, but that's always the hardest part for me. Now that I have a DSLR I've figured out that my hands shake. Great.

    @Toni - yes, it's sad, but there's not much way around it. We did have fun at the event. I love talking to interesting people!

    @Jennifer - I'm sad you're not in California too!

    Toni Tralala said...

    I know what you mean. It's just how it is. I assume that they don't want to risk food poisoning either, considering the change of temperatures too. If only it was safe to donate the food.

    I just moved to California and there's so much to love here. <3

    Rhonda said...

    How fun and really interesting, it's so sad that they can't donate the food to a soup kitchen or rescue mission.

    Daydreamer Desserts said...

    It was great seeing you again Erika! By the way... you have an awesome memory my friend. I on the other hand would have had to take notes to be able to recall all those facts. :/ Nicely done!

    BonnieBanters said...

    That was fun to hear about! Food styling is interesting - a friend's daughter did some for me years ago for a brochure - she also did styling for movie sets. (Apparently she preferred this to being a psychologist!)

    Cristina - Teenie Cakes said...

    Hi Erika: Great post and intro image of Susan. Enjoyed the details you included.

    It was so nice to see you last week! Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones. :)

    Diane Schmidt said...

    What a fun event. Love your know-how for getting the great answers :)

    Monet said...

    I have been hearing about this event, and it sounds like it was so much fun! I wish I could have gone...both to hear Susan speak and to meet you! I love hearing how she played with her pasta and hired those local chefs...she sounds like a savvy, fun and creative woman! Thank you for sharing with me. I hope you have a Wednesday full of wonder and joy!

    Damaris @Kitchen Corners said...

    What a fun event. I wish i could have been there but instead I was flying over to Hawaii and watching,wait for it, Eat Pray Love.

    I love Rome the best of all. She did an amazing job with the food styling.

    Barry Newman said...

    Jealous! Wish I could have gone! Looks so fun and see some familiar faces :) Sad about all the food going to waste but it really doesn't surprise me.

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