Eat Pray Love – Food Coordinator & Stylist, Susan Spungen
Hollywood’s premier food stylist, Susan Spungen, was the food coordinator for movie greats like, Julia & Julia and It’s Complicated. She recently attended a luncheon to discuss her latest experiences working on the set of this year’s movie, Eat Pray Love, based on the Elizabeth Gilbert’s New York Times bestseller book.
The event included about 15 food and Mommy bloggers from Southern California and was held over a beautifully presented lunch in Brentwood’s Vincenti Ristorante (an elegant Italian restaurant in reference and honor of the memorable and deliciously styled food scenes from the movie that took place in Italy). A last minute honor for attendees also included the film’s producer, Dede Gardner (President of Plan B Entertainment).
Susan has worked in the food industry as a cook, food stylist, recipe developer, editor and author. She was the food editor for a then newer publication, Martha Stewart Living, for 12 years before going freelance.
Admittedly, I have yet to read the book but have enjoyed the DVD several times over already! I have my favorite scenes, many memorable quotes and enjoyed the role that food plays in the movie. In Gilbert’s book and movie based on her memoirs, she heads to Italy to find the enjoyment and passions of eating again. The food scenes in Italy are delectably stunning and Susan is the creative force behind it.
At the luncheon, I wanted to hear about specifics and technical aspects of Susan’s food styling expertise. I managed to steal in a couple of questions with one in regards to the “spaghetti scene.” It’s just one of several pivotal moments from the movie and I wanted the scoop on:
- How many plates of spaghetti did it take to complete the scene? It only took a couple, which is not as many as I would’ve thought…
- How did she style it? Susan shared that the plate of spaghetti was styled by using her hands, no tweezers. The director, Ryan Murphy, was specific about how it was represented in the book – down to the basil. I could probably try styling spaghetti like that for a month and not achieve what it looked like in that scene before Julia Roberts chows down on it.
Within the three movies that she was involved in, I was wondering if there were glimpses of her in any of the scenes as maybe an extra or passerbyer, etc. Interestingly, Susan’s hands are used as doubles in several scenes…I’ll give you a hint – it has to do with poultry.
Some other fun tidbits from the Eat Pray Love movie: The scenes in Italy are taking place in Fall, or cooler weather months so the actors are wearing sweaters, hats and coats. The reality is that they were working in over 100 degree weather! I can only imagine other challenges in such warm weather when working with the food so that it doesn’t spoil or appear wilted. Also, the scene of Elizabeth (Julia Roberts) and Giovanni (Luca Argentero) enjoying those gorgeous, cheese-filled squash blossoms, posed a challenge to make it look like cheesy-oozy goodness. To get that desired effect for the camera, taleggio was used instead of mozzarella!
Eat Pray Love – Producer, Dede Gardner
I asked Susan if she conducts workshops on food styling. Wouldn’t it be invaluable and interesting to attend an intense workshop on the subject of food styling for print publication and movies/video? Who better to learn from than Susan? She was open to the idea and that has my mind spinning….Would anyone else be interested in such a workshop too (please express your interests in comments)?
At the end of this article, I’m providing some additional links to interviews and insights of Susan’s work…one as recent as a couple of days ago on December 10th, 2010 (the day of the luncheon) that was featured on Access Hollywood featuring Holiday Appetizers.
Dede Gardner is the film’s producer and President of Plan B Entertainment (owned by actor, Brad Pitt). She has a long list of impressive credits, including: The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. She is also the producer of the soon-to-be-released film, The Tree of Life, (2011) starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.
It was a memorable afternoon that went by too quickly and it was a pleasure to meet new faces and catch up with some familiar ones. If you were at the luncheon and we didn’t get to meet, please introduce yourself. Shout-outs to fellow luncheon guests:
- Caryn – RockinMama
- Erika – In Erika’s Kitchen
- Giselle – Small Pleasures Catering
- Greg – Sippity Sup (Check out the January 2011 issue of Food & Wine magazine for a feature on Greg, entitled “Food Bloggers’ Best Kitchen Ideas” – his kitchen will leave you speechless!)
- Josie – Daydreamer Desserts
- Marla – Family Fresh Cooking
- Rachael – La Fuji Mama
- Sibylla – Divaluscious
- Veronica – The Enchanted Cook
Memorable movie quotes…
“Sometimes to lose balance for love…is part of living balance in life.“
“dolce far niente!“
Italian for “the sweetness of doing nothing” – as shared by Giovanni and Luca Spaghetti
Cristina D., Staci G., Kayla K., and Karen P. for organizing an enjoyable afternoon for the group;
Susan and Dede for being so warm and approachable – for sharing your stories and insights;
Maureen, owner of Vincenti Ristorante, and her fine personnel who never had us in want of anything because they took care of us so well and never let my red wine glass go empty. Salute! (Italian for “To good health and well-being”). Maureen’s restaurant served us a beautiful and delicious Italian lunch that included a Butter Lettuce Salad with these amazing Warm Polenta Croutons (which I must find out how to make!) and four gorgeous artisanal pizzas. I’m including the delicious details:
- Pizza with housemade Sausage, fresh Porcini, Mozzarella and Black Truffles (those truffles were amazing!).
- Pizza with Bufala Mozzarella, Fresh Cherry Tomatoes and Basil (my favorite)
- White Pizza with Artichokes, Burrata Cheese, Zucchini Flowers (my first time trying zucchini blossoms and loved it!) and Prosciutto Crudo
- Pizza with Assorted Vegetables and Mozzarella
Also, an appetizer was served with a tomato and what I think was Bufala Mozzarella, drizzled with a vinaigrette and seasoned olive oil (or was it pesto?) – beautifully presented. I’m featuring images of the luncheon below.
The movie is available now on both DVD/Blu-RayTM and includes both the Theatrical and Never-Before Seen Director’s Cut versions of the film. The Blu-RayTM edition includes some extra featurettes.
[Click on an image to easily browse image-set.]
Related Articles and Interviews on Food Styling with Susan:
- Eat Pray Love
- Access Hollywood Live: Susan Spungen’s Eat Pray Love Holiday Appetizers! (Access Hollywood, 12/10/2010)
- Food Stylist Susan Spungen on Eat, Pray, Love and Whether Julia Roberts Spits or Swallows (Eater.com, 8/18/2010)
- Eat, Pray, Spritz | Food Stylist Susan Spungen (Tmagazine, 8/13/2010)
- Susan Spungen’s Eat Pray Love Secrets (SheKnows.com, 8/11/2010)
- Behind The Scenes with Hollywood Food Stylist Susan Spungen (bon appetit, 7/28/2010)
- Julie & Julia & It’s Complicated
- It’s Complicated! (SheKnows.com, 4/22/2010)
- Susan Spungen column (The Atlantic – A series of 3 features by Susan)
- Film Food, Ready for Its ‘Bon Appetit’ (The New York Times, 7/28/2009)
- “Julie & Julia” Food Stylist Susan Spungen Explains the Secret to a Perfect Cheese Pull (LA Weekly, 7/27/2009)
- Behind-the-Scenes: The Food in ‘Julie and Julia’ (SeriousEats.com, 7/17/2009)
- Food Styling Inspiration
- Big Leo Productions