I'd often seen Susan Spungen do remarkable work as a food stylist and all-around good cook in the original offices of Martha Stewart Living. "Shoot food" is a common term around food magazines and food sections, something you generally eye very hungrily waiting for the moment of need to end, which can take forever, especially when a meticulous or temperamental stylist and photographer are involved--or jockeying for primacy as a shoot progresses.
Generally every assistant, equipment handler, and passerby from adjoining offices lunges the minute the photo lights get turned off, and within a shockingly short time the beautiful plates are battle scenes.
But I had no idea of the rigors of making and styling food for a film until Susan Spungen sent in this morning's enlightening piece. I admit that I'd gotten an idea when she appeared between takes on the day I spent on the set of Julie & Julia, in a well-used apron and her hair a bit astray. But then, she'd spent heaven knows how many hours--it was mid-afternoon--styling food for a terribly chic French cocktail party where Julia Child meets her future collaborators, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle (I got to be an extra clear on the other side of the screen from Meryl Streep peering intently at a tray of soigne little hors d'oeuvres). It all looked pretty spiffy to me, but then I was agog the whole day, and happily stunned when I saw Susan appear at all--I hadn't known she was working on the movie.
But just yesterday official confirmation appeared in the paper of record, when Sam Sifton, the culture editor of The New York Times and one of my favorite writers on food in any publication, wrote about the understandably daunting task of cooking for Nora Ephron, the writer and director of J&J. He leaves the actual review to his colleagues (whom he probably edits), but he does allow himself one observation:
Opinions about movies are for film critics; I hazard them at great personal risk. (I work closely with film critics.) But I can say that the food in Julie & Julia is beautiful. (Can't I?) The aesthetic of Ephron's sole is perfect. She may be to food as Scorsese is to bar fights.
Way to go Susan! And these are just the advance notices.