‘Eat Pray Love’ Food Stylist Susan Spungen Talks to OpenTable

The eagerly anticipated film Eat Pray Love starring Julia Roberts arrives in theaters on Friday, August 13, 2010. Based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir of the same title, Eat Pray Love found an audience in foodies, many of whom are looking forward to seeing Ms. Roberts follow in Gilbert’s yummy “foodsteps” throughout Italy. The film’s food stylist, Susan Spungen, shared some of her experiences working on location, as well as a few of her favorite foodie things. A food editor and editorial director for Martha Stewart Living magazine for 12 years, Spungen’s mouthwatering work has also been featured in Julie and Julia and It’s Complicated. Watch our exclusive video interview and tune in tomorrow to find out how you can win dinner and tickets to Eat Pray Love for four.

How do you prepare to shoot Eat Pray Love on location in Rome?

My preparation for the Eat Pray Love shoot was more about anxiety than excitement. When you’re going to another country to do something as complicated as a movie shoot, your main concern – or my main concern – would be logistics and not knowing what my situation was going to be, knowing that no one else would care about me and where I was going to cook, where I was going to prep, where and how I was going to shop, and who my assistant was going to be. I knew I was going to have to hit the ground running when I got there, so food was sort of the last thing. I knew I could do that without even thinking, but when you have all these layers of logistical obstacles, you have to think ahead and ask many, many, many questions to try to sort those things out before you actually get there so it’ll be a smooth landing.

When you were preparing the food, did you have to omit the garlic?

In Rome, they don’t actually use that much garlic. It’s more a southern Italian thing, so unlike in the States, if you get pasta with clams, well, they don’t put any garlic in there. The cooking is a little different. Garlic is not as ubiquitous throughout Italy as you might think. It’s more of a regional thing. But if the actors are eating, we would definitely leave out anything that would give them indigestion or bad breath or that would otherwise be difficult to eat.

Do the production staffers and crew members ask to eat your food?

That happened a lot more when we were on the sound stages and we had more control of the food and where we were cooking it. In Rome, we were so much on the fly, pretty much as soon as the scene was over, we were out of there.

In our video interview you discuss pizza, but Italy is also known for gelato. Did you have to prepare any?

There are certain things that fall under the category of set decoration as opposed to props. Props are anything that the actor touches, so that sort of includes food. Anything else, though, is set decoration. There was a big day of shooting at a café in Piazza Navona, and the set decoration/art department brought in gelato and pastries to fill up the display cases. Even though air conditioning was being piped in, the temperature was about 100 degrees. All the gelato was melting. They rushed me over to the set from where I was cooking for another scene, about 20 miles away, but there wasn’t a lot I could do. We never had time to reshoot it, so there’s a missing gelato shot. But I don’t think we’ll miss it.

You live in New York, one of the world’s dining capitals. What are a few of your favorite restaurants and chefs?

I love Jonathan Waxman’s Barbuto. Pylos in the East Village has a great communal table and healthy, fresh Greek food. I’ve known Dan Barber for quite a while even before he opened Blue Hill, and I’m a big fan of what he’s doing and his cooking, so much so that I was married at Blue Hill at Stone Barns three years ago. We had probably the most fabulous dinner party ever with 125 of our closest friends! I’ve also always admired Jean Georges and Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin).

Have you dined at Per Se?

I have been to Per Se once. It’s quite an investment, but there’s no one like Thomas Keller and his food is amazing. I wish we had Bouchon here so we could enjoy his food without the price tag.

When you dine out, is there anything you always order?

Because I know how hard certain things are to make — like if I see fava beans — I’ll order them. Something slow cooked, something I know that isn’t a plain old piece of fish. If I see something that I like, I will always order that.

Eat Pray Love opens in theaters nationwide on August 13, 2010.