Getting Food Ready For Its Close-Up


Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures

To try the recipe for twice-baked potatoes described in this post, click here.

My old friend Corby Kummer has asked me to write about my experiences as culinary consultant for the upcoming film Julie & Julia, which comes out August 7th. We all know titles can mean very little, so let me try to explain what culinary consultant means.

Yes, I consulted with the esteemed director of the film, Nora Ephron, on what particular dishes might work best in scenes that were unscripted, and yes, I helped to train the actors, especially Amy Adams, who plays the blogger Julie Powell, to give her a comfort level with a large sharp knife that would be credible on film. I showed everyone in the cast (almost) and Nora how to bone a duck, the frightening task that Julie is dreading for most of the movie.

But mostly, I actually cooked the food and made it look good on camera, or bad, depending on the scene. That's what we call being a food stylist, and that is really what I was on this movie. That required cooking a lot of food almost every day for about three months straight with the help of Colin Flynn, who, thankfully handled the huge army of lobsters we invited into our makeshift kitchen, and generally was my partner in crime throughout the whole endeavor.

Like most food professionals, and many other regular folks, I have a soft spot and deep fondness and respect for Julia Child.

You might wonder how I got this job. Like most of the fun and interesting things I've done in my long career in food, it found me, or more accurately, Nora Ephron found me. Since leaving my post as the top food editor at Martha Stewart Living in 2003, I have been living the freelance life.

One of the best things about that is that you are open and available when someone like Nora calls and says, "Wanna work on my movie?". Nora got my name from Amanda Hesser from the New York Times, who felt I was the person for this job. When I found out it was Julie & Julia, how could I say no? I didn't. I canceled a trip (booked and paid for) to Buenos Aires and started getting in the Julia frame of mind, which wasn't hard to do.

Like most food professionals, and many other regular folks, I have a soft spot and deep fondness and respect for Julia Child. I was lucky enough to have had an opportunity to work closely with her, in her home in Cambridge while the Baking with Julia PBS TV series was being filmed. I made an elaborate wedding cake (times 16, to accommodate the magic of television) which we filmed the assembly of over a two-day period.

Julia and her producer, Geoff Drummond, made a simple summer supper for Martha, me, and the rest of our crew that first evening, which of course became an indelible memory, not because of the food, but for what a quietly momentous occasion it was for me. I do remember some buttery twice-baked potatoes, and some grilled steak, I think.

She even pulled a very old bottle of wine from her cellar for us to drink that was sadly, undrinkable. But still, I often thought about that dusty old bottle while we were filming the movie, since the period of her life which is so lovingly and faithfully recreated, was roughly the same one in which she laid that bottle down. Somehow it connected the distant past to the not-so-distant past to the present.