A few months ago, I wrote this post about the food in It’s Complicated, the 2009 film starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin. My point back then, which I’ll repeat now, was that in a film where romantic chaos rules, the sumptuous food nearly steals every scene it’s in. And I’ve just learned the reason why: Susan Spungen.
Ms. Spungen was the food consultant not only on It’s Complicated, but also on Meryl Streep’s prior 2009 release, Julie & Julia. A food stylist, cookbook author (of Recipes: A Collection for the Modern Cook), founding food editor of Martha Stewart Living Magazine, and former pastry chef, Spungen spoke with me about her work on It’s Complicated.
Cheryl Sternman Rule: How much creative leeway did you have in determining the look and feel of the food on the set?
Susan Spungen: On this film, I had quite a bit of leeway. It was Nancy’s [director Nancy Meyers] vision but I brought it to life. It was my job to understand what Nancy wanted and to make that happen. In pre-production I showed her a lot of photography describing the look and feel of what I had in mind, and we were on the same page. Our visions were in line. Some of the food was scripted and some was not, but I had quite a bit of creative leeway.
CSR: Can you talk about the scene where Meryl Streep’s character Jane prepares, I believe, a sandwich for Steve Martin’s character?
SS: The croquet monsieur, yes. That was a little bit of a seduction scene. I believe it was their second date… a croquet monsieur is something that is pretty seductive.
CSR: How difficult was it for you to work with Meryl Streep on this film when you had worked with her so recently in Julie & Julia, in which she played an entirely different character?
SS: It wasn’t complicated to work with Meryl Streep in the two roles. There was a comfort level there, so it was an added plus for me to be able to communicate with her again. With It’s Complicated, the food was more contemporary so it was a little more fun for me creatively. They were both fun, though.
CSR: How many assistants do you generally have when you’re involved in a project such as this?
SS: I usually have just one assistant. We’re part of the prop department and there are other assistant prop masters who help us get the food on the set so we get to focus on the actual cooking.
For those of you who haven’t yet seen the film, prepare to witness Spungen’s magic with a classic meal of roast chicken, green beans, and chocolate cake, not to mention that croque monsieur and a bevy of chocolate croissants. The film releases on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 27th.
Cheryl Sternman Rule is a widely-published food writer and the voice behind the blog 5 Second Rule.