Eat, Pray, Love & a Giveaway – Food Stylist Susan Spungen

by Pamela

susan spungen, eat pray love movie, food stylilng, food stylist, julia roberts, relationship advice

Recently I was fortunate to be able to have a great chat with Susan Spungen, the food stylist behind the movies It’s Complicated, Julie and Julia and Eat, Pray, Love (which you can buy as of November 23rd – and for one lucky winner, you can win a copy from me courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment).  Our discussion focused, naturally, on food but the tragedies and triumphs of styling real food (yes, they do use real/edible food in movies) for movies versus food styling for photo shoots.  Lest you think I only picked her brain on fluffy things like feeding Julia Roberts or working with Martha Stewart (she did that for 12 years), rest assured I also got some styling tips we can all use for holiday decorating our tables.

MMB: As a food stylist, for movies, what does your job entail?

SS: The basics of my job entail getting the food cooked, getting the correct quantity of food cooked (most scenes are shot several times at different angles and there must be enough food to cover all of those takes), the food must be ready to go within the tight shooting schedule and there must be continuity to the food.  The continuity in food styling doesn’t mean ‘don’t serve Indian food in an Italy based movie.’  Continuity means, if the scene needs to finish shooting at a later time, you make the same exact foods as were used in the earlier shots.  While any one of these things seem challenging, the biggest challenge for a food stylist is logistics.  For Eat, Pray, Love the streets where we were shooting were too narrow for our trucks and we didn’t have a restaurant kitchen to prepare food in.  We had a kitchen in a truck.  We prepared the food at one location and then had to carry it over to the shooting location.  We also had a few refrigerated trucks that stored our food.  One night, a truck wasn’t plugged in so the refrigeration went out in it and we lost all of our food.

MMB: Did you have the freedom to make any dish that you wanted?

SS: For the most part all of the dishes for Eat, Pray, Love were scripted.  The book spelled out many of the dishes that were eaten in the story so those dishes were already determined.  Then the script that I was given laid out most of the other dishes.  I did, however, have some creative leeway in the Thanksgiving dinner scene.  Traditional Thanksgiving dishes in America are not necessarily what you would find in Italy.  And the turkeys in Italy look a bit different than the American version of turkey.  I had much more creative license in the movie Julie and Julia.

MMB: What foods are the most challenging to make “pretty?”

SS: MELTED CHEESE!  It just tends to look really gross regardless if it’s for a still photo or in a movie.  For that sensual squash blossom scene I couldn’t use mozzarella or the cheese would never ooze and flow the way it was written into the script.  I used taleggio cheese to get the right amount of yummy looking oozing cheese.  The other foods that were tricky to make pretty were any of the foods that Julia Roberts was seen eating in close up.  Especially the scene where Julia was eating pasta.

MMB: What suggestions can you make to people who are trying to impress with their holiday table or food?

SS: Regarding the table:

  • Use all white or subtle tones that work together to make an elegant looking table.
  • Put all of your serving platters and dishes out ahead of time on the table.  Doing this will allow you to set the table much quicker the day of your event.  Use sticky notes to label each dish with what you are going to put in it.
  • Use simple table decorations.  Use cake stands, cups and compotes.  Fill them with natural items like quince, pomegranates, citrus, romanesco cauliflower and bosc pears which all look terrific on the table (and they’re nice and low so your guests can converse without having to lean around tall decorations).  Make sure these are all different heights.  This gives the tablescape some depth.
  • Make the table look full.

SS: Regarding the food:

  • Use as many room temperature dishes as possible (things like grain salads) unless you can keep the dishes warm.  Invest in a chafing dish or hot plate (these are really economical now, look pretty and will last you for years).
  • Use a long shiny (think metal) platter for sliced meats or salad.  Long platters help to fill up the table.
  • Use wide/open bowls for cool (think salads) or room temperature dishes.
  • Use closed bowls for hot dishes like mashed potatoes.
  • Overlap wide bowls with platters to achieve a full looking table.
  • Use gratin dishes as serving platters because they hold their heat well (invest in some pretty bakers that are pretty – these can go from oven to table and still look beautiful).
  • DO NOT PUT GLASS PYREX ON THE TABLE EVER!  It doesn’t look nice and detracts from the overall beauty of the table.

Relationship Advice

This quote comes directly from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love….

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.

A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.

A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master…”


Eat, Pray, LoveHaving watched this movie there are several scenes I watch over and over again, thanks to Susan Spungen and her styling genius, the pasta scene with Julia Roberts; the Thanksgiving spread; and that gelato….oh the gelato.  Well, now you can too.  Not only did I receive a copy of Eat, Pray, Love but Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is also giving me a movie to give to one of my lucky readers.  Do you want a copy?  Does someone on your holiday gift list want a copy?

To enter the Eat, Pray, Love giveaway all you need to do is follow me on Twitter @MyMansBelly, tweet about the giveaway with: I entered to win a copy of Eat, Pray, Love from @MyMansBelly you can too.  Once you do that, leave a comment back here that you’ve done that and you’re in.  The entries must be received by midnight (PST) on November 30, 2010.  I’ll choose the lucky winner using and will notify the winner on December 1, 2010. (Only 1 entry per Twitter address.)

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

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Lora @cakeduchess November 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I love this book and would love a copy of the movie!! Count me in:) I RT it the other day. I will RT again tonight:)

Pamela November 30, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Thanks Lora!

bunkycooks November 26, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I tweeted the giveaway! Would love to see this movie. 🙂

Tiffany November 26, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Loved the book. Want the movie, please.

Ken│hungry rabbit November 26, 2010 at 2:01 pm

n u know I follow u like a silly puppy.

Ken│hungry rabbit November 26, 2010 at 2:00 pm

I have tweet about your giveaway.

Brian @ A Thought For Food November 26, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Haven’t seen the movie, but I heard the Italy section was the best part… hope I can see all of Susan’s amazing food styling!

Posted this on Twitter!

Cheryl W. November 25, 2010 at 10:38 pm

I am following you on twitter @HeartnSoulmom


I would love to win this dvd. I am huge fan of Julia’s work.

Betty @ scrambled hen fruit November 24, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Read the book, but haven’t seen the movie. That must really be a fun job to have!

Belinda @zomppa November 24, 2010 at 2:26 pm

A fascinating interview! What a neat and difficult job she has.

Eel {SpiceOpolis} November 24, 2010 at 12:21 pm

SpiceOpolis entered to win a copy of Eat, Pray, Love from @MyMansBelly you can too.

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