Sunday Bits

22 Nov 2015

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Oh dear.

It’s been far too long since I last put together one of these sassy Sunday Bits. But, between farming, mothering, cooking, writing, homework and every possible other thing I can commit to (mad woman), having a free moment to blog is becoming as scarce as hen’s teeth.

Over the last few weeks….we’ve welcomed at least a dozen new calves, celebrated our son’s first decade, minded our 10.5 year old Airedale Terrier, Ted, while he has been struggling with some health issues, I traveled to Dublin to give an extremely passionate talk on Irish dairy farming for Catherine Cleary’s Appetite Talks, spent an evening at the American Ambassador to Ireland’s residence in Dublin listening to Danny Meyer talk about hospitality as a part of the Creative Minds series, and hung out with many, many fabulous foodcentrics like myself (pictured with me are Domini Kemp, Jo Murphy and Susan Jane White all in our celebratory green), our 3rd Lens & Larder workshop took place at Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara with Susan Spungen and Gentl & Hyers (we are building our L&L website with my designer friends, Hayes Design across the Atlantic on Martha’s Vineyard right now so stay tuned for more images there, but the top image was taken by Gentl & Hyers of our big table feast moment), I harvested potatoes, French blue leeks, parsnips, celery, horseradish, purple kale and loads of lettuces and herbs from our kitchen garden, foraged for sloes, rosehips, bramble and elderberries, harvested honey with my father in law, went to an incredible ladies sidesaddle meet at the local Franciscan Friary, attended a thought-provoking “SpeakEATsy” dinner at Cloughjordan Community Farm and Eco-Village, and spent the night at the remarkable Cloughjordan House, where we will hopefully be producing a Lens & Larder retreat next year, and, of course, there has been plenty of baking to go around….including gypsy pie!

…….And, in other dalliances,

I am going to be co-teaching a workshop in Australia next April!!! Yes, still pinching myself and relishing in this news. I feel so honored to be partnering with the super lovely fellow farmer, Sophie Hanson of Local Lovely, and the incredibly talented photographer, Luisa Brimble to present a workshop of food, photography, and traditional Irish farmhouse kitchen skills with a few recipes from my book at the gorgeous Kimbri Farm in the Rydal Blue Mountains, about 2 hours from Sydney. For more details and registration, visit Local-Lovely.

I was recently introduced to The Irish Taste Club, magnificent gift boxes filled with very special Irish artisan food products such as Ed Hick’s fabulous bacon jam, Dunany Flours, Wild Irish Sea Vegetables Kombu, and many more exclusively Irish products that can be delivered to the USA and abroad each month. Leave a comment below to be in the draw for your own free gift box, and spread the word! The owners of this company are just darling, and these gift boxes make for the perfect holiday pressie for homesick Irish abroad!

I have begun collaborating with Aran Sweaters, writing recipes and taking photos for their beautiful blog…have a peek!

The beautiful Swedish watch company, Daniel Wellington, asked us to photograph one of their timepieces, so I let Richard do the modelling, as seen in the image below….click here for 15% off using the code MODERNFARMETTE.

I filed my first online food/drink column for Town & Country (UK) this week, will share the link when the first piece is published on Tuesday. Very excited about this new work!

Ballymaloe Litfest has announced their line-up for their sensational spring event. Again, holiday pressies people!!

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Okay, I think that it is for now…….over and out, shall be sharing a lovely new winter recipe soon. Don’t forget to leave a comment to be in the draw for an Irish Taste Club gift box!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

 

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We are absolutely thrilled to announce that registration is now open for our next Lens & Larder retreat. For this workshop, we are offering the rare opportunity to study with acclaimed photography duo, Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers, along with celebrated food stylist and longtime collaborator, Susan Spungen at the magnificent Ballynahinch Castle in the stunning wilds of Connemara, Ireland.

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During an intensive master class in visual storytelling through photography and styling, participants will take their tuition at the Ballynahinch Castle estate in County Galway where Andrea, Martin & Susan will make use of indigenous ingredients, historically lush interiors, the flora and fauna at the foot of rugged wilderness, and the treasured talents of local artisans to guide each student in the making of their own distinctive visual food and lifestyle story.

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A Moveable Feast

We believe that the art of food photography and styling is much more compelling when it involves telling a story that makes use of the cinema of the local environment and the vibrant personalities of its makers. In keeping with this ethos, our Lens & Larder workshop will be designed to focus on two areas: food still life & styling and visual storytelling.

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For the still life food and styling portion, the craft of food preparation and styling, scene composition, natural lighting, and simple editing tools will be discussed and demonstrated. Andrea and Martin will be shooting tethered to a laptop computer so that changes in photography and styling will be easy for students to view in real time. Susan will demonstrate the preparation and styling of both ingredients and finished plates for photography; making use of the Ballynahinch kitchen, larder, and dining rooms. Each student will get the chance to practice the techniques learned using simple tools that every photographer and stylist should have in their kit. A discussion of story telling, styling and editing will be present throughout the workshop.

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For the storytelling segment, we will meet colourful locals who will share their unique Irish stories and perhaps even a bit of Connemara folklore. We will also be working with talented crafts people from the community who will provide an array of indigenous props and tasty elixirs for our workshop.

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Andrea Gentl and Martin Hyers are renowned freelance photographers living and working in New York City and Delaware County, New York. They have collaborated for over twenty years as the photo team of Gentl and Hyers, shooting still life, travel, food, lifestyle and interiors. They are regular contributors to Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, InStyle Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler and more. They also work with cookbook authors, recently photographing  Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food by Jody Williams and the Julia Turshen’s forthcoming, The Small Victories Cookbook, Chronicle 2016.  They are on a constant quest to reexamine their personal style and to embrace change through personal experience. They are most inspired by travel. They build on the experiences they gain through that form of photography. A few years ago, Andrea started the blog, Hungry Ghost Food and Travel, to expand on those experiences and to focus on personal projects and collaborations. Through her blog she has gained a following in the photography and food community. She and Martin have traveled extensively around the world and they are delighted to bring their combined experience to our workshop to Ireland.

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Susan Spungen is a distinguished cookbook author, entertaining expert, culinary consultant and food stylist for both print and film, having brought the food to life in major feature films such as Julia & Julia,  It’s ComplicatedEat, Pray, Love, and Labor Day. She was the founding Food Editor of Martha Stewart Living, and is a frequent contributor to national magazines such as Bon Appétit, Food & WineMore Magazine and Rodale’s Organic Life where she is a Contributing Editor. Susan is the co-author of Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook, and is the author of RECIPES: A Collection for the Modern Cook. Her latest book is What’s a Hostess to Do? a guidebook for entertaining in the modern world. We welcomed Susan to Ireland last year where she was at the helm of our first Lens & Larder retreat at Ballynahinch Castle. Our students were stirred and inspired by the generosity of her styling knowledge and expertise and, it must be mentioned, by the warmth and ebullience of her personality.

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Together, this incredible team will lead our two-day/three-night workshop at Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway. They will discuss and demonstrate photography and styling from the perspective of a working professional. Each participant will have one-on-one time with each instructor to discuss their goals for the workshop. At the end of the retreat, there will be a short critique. Each participant will have gained experience in visual story telling & food styling and how to use their new techniques and gear to build their own unique style and vision going forward.

When:

November 4th to 7th, 2015

What:

2 days/3 nights = 2 full days filled with instruction interspersed with hands-on practice. Included:  3 nights luxury accommodation at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, welcome cocktail reception, 3 full Irish breakfasts; 2 lunches; 3 evening dinners. Wine and non-alcoholic beverages. All food will have a focus on locally sourced, artisan ingredients (vegetarian options will be catered for)

Excluded: Travel to Ireland and transportation to Ballynahinch; Travel insurance; Extras

Cost:

2150 EUR (2450 USD) per person sharing dual occupancy or 2350 EUR (2790 USD) for private accommodation. A 90% non-refundable deposit will be required to secure your spot.

Final 10% Payment will be due upon arrival to the hotel on 4th November.

Due to planning logistics, there will be absolutely no refunds for this workshop. Please make sure you can attend before securing a space for the retreat.

(We recommend that you to take travel insurance. An SLR camera and basic camera knowledge is necessary for this course. Computer with photo imaging software is recommended, but not mandatory)

Email lensandlarder@gmail.com to register.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

PS. Will announce Cheerz winner on my next post! x

(Images and styling credits: Gentl & Hyers, Susan Spungen, Michael Graydon, Christopher Testani, and Roland Bello)

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Sunday Bits

05 Jul 2015

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Aren’t Sundays sensational?

It’s just that Sunday is the one day of the week where we can all take a bit of time off (in between milking, of course) and simply exhale. After our commitments in the morning, I love to read the newspaper (online + paper versions), a few pages of any new magazines or books that have been stacking up on my nightstand (currently Porter, White Goats & Black Bees, Garden & Gun, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying…ahhh, too many to list!) or catch up on emails, blogs, Pinterest, make some Skype calls to the USA. As a family, we’ll do some weeding (i.e. meditation), play some American football catch (yes, me too), watch a hurling match, and I usually prepare a proper Sunday lunch for anyone who wants to drop by. From morning to evening, Sunday is my absolute favorite day of the week.

So, in the spirit of Sunday and all the bacchanalia that it brings to my attention, and in keeping with various requests to post a wee bit more, I am happy to share some people/places/things that have inspired me this week. I will make this a regular blog feature and look forward to it, the best thing in this whole business is sharing ideas and forging friendships along the way….I love this kind of thing so I hope you do too.

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I realllly want to visit Sophie at Mandagery Farm and attend one of her beautiful Farm Kitchen Lunches…

My Lens & Larder partner, Cliodhna Pendergast’s incredible children’s cooking films, Breaking Eggs are currently being featured in the Irish Times online, so much fun!

Pure Green Juice delivered a 3 day detox/cleanse to me today, I will report back on the results, but how wonderful to have a new Irish raw juice company available!

Ice cream! The first photo above is my little experiment with poppyseed vanilla bean ice cream made with farm fresh cream, mooooo!….the recipe is here if you fancy trying it

The most beautiful Irish crafted cutting boards, Two Wooden Horses, have opened their online shop

The Gathered Table is a fantastic concept with loads of weekly meal inspo

We’ve been listening to the Chopped podcast lately (when I say we, I mean anyone who is trapped in the jeep or tractor with me for any extended amount of time), it’s very conversational, and also really touches on some interesting food blogging tips like how to use Snapchat as a food blogger, how to improve your SEO, creative ways to grow your audience, tips on food photography and more….including interviews with professionals like Matt Armendiaz and many top US food bloggers.

Recently I was fortunate to have dinner at Skye Gyngell’s dreamy Spring restaurant in London, which was a positively heavenly experience with regard to both food and ambience. Of course, the company wasn’t bad, Claire and Cliodhna, but the food was so remarkably fresh it felt like it was literally coming from my own kitchen garden (something about food feeling like it came from steps from your own garden is magnificent and divulging in a feast like this in such a beautifully appointed, clean, dare I say, regal dining room was really a special treat for me!) everything was absolutely in step with the season. Do nip in for lunch or dinner if you are near Somerset House. Unforgettable.

According to Andrea Gentl’s insta-feed, the great Julia Turshen has a new book coming out soon, and I for one, cannot wait!

We hosted a small dinner party here a couple of weekends ago and for pre-dinner cocktail, I prepared Susan Spungen’s Pink Sangria from her Strawberries Short Stack Edition book. It went over a storm and is one of those recipes that will be made again and again. Try it!

I’m loving 31 Chapel Lane in London, lovely purveyors of Irish linens for the home and kitchen with roots to an Irish farm.

Did you know that Ashley of Not Without Salt’s amazing salted choccy chip cookie mix is available at Sur La Table? Well, they are! I wish they shipped to Ireland! Will get some when we travel to America again later this summer.

Ooooh this is really fun, do I have to stop? I didn’t think so.

Have you ever really wanted to “unplug” and can’t resist spending time on the internet? MacFreedom will free you! Amazing for productivity; even on the farm we find it easy to get sucked into too much social media time, but it’s hard to resist when you only have a herd of cows as your supervisors. Check it out. 

In keeping with the above, we’ve recently also discovered Headspace, an amazing meditation app. Ommmm. (although weeding works remarkably well too)

My hedgerow martini photo inspired by my friends at Ballyvolane House was featured by the amazing Susan Zelouf in this week’s The Gloss. Also, that leather apron!!!!

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And, last but not least, our cows with hearts on their heads make our hearts swell, and a few other snaps from the holiday weekend. 2. Geoffrey “building a lake” at Ballyheigue Beach. 3. Our annual seafood boil at the farm….featuring Kerry crabs and Cork sausages with a side of crisp Orpen cider!

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I hope you enjoy, more soon!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Lens & Larder maiden voyage was a great success and I’m happy to report that I am already plotting and planning another retreat for Spring 2015…stay tuned for more details. It was positively wonderful to work with my partners, my dear friend, former chef, and fellow food enthusiast, Cliodhna Prendergast of Breaking Eggs, and her husband, Patrick O’Flaherty, the ebullient and charming general manager of Ballynahinch Castle. Thank you for giving so much of yourselves and the idyllic and raw setting of your home in Connemara, and for offering so much at such a fair tariff. Your latest Condé Nast Traveler accolade could not be more deserved.

We were also privileged to share several very generous gifts from friends: Helen James, Makers & Brothers, Jameson Select Reserve Irish Whiskey, Hen and Hammock, Feast Journal, 31 Chapel Lane, Superfolk, The Tweed Project, and Connemara Marble. A massive thank you to each and every one of you for your support, our students were absolutely thrilled with their magnificent bag of treats.

We were exceptionally fortunate to have special contributions from modern medicine girl, Claire Davey of America Village Apothecary, stylist, Triona Lillis  who kept us fed at the schoolhouse and even provided extra pretty props from her vintage store, and The Ashe family who graciously gave us the run of their schoolhouse on Inishlacken Island. Gosh, we were certainly a lucky, lucky bunch, thank you all. (or, as Beth would say, thanks y’all!)

Our instructors, Beth Kirby and Susan Spungen were incredibly liberal with their teachings which all felt very natural and informal over the two days that we spent making, styling, and shooting together. Everyone seemed to take away something a little different, which is a positive in my view. I feel honoured to have had the chance to work with these two exemplary women in food. Thanks so much again ladies!

Above all, I’d like to extend extraordinary gratitude to the fantastic creatives who took the plunge and came along on this first Lens & Larder retreat. The group was just a savage bunch; I couldn’t have curated a lovelier mosaic of bloggers, photographers, stylists, chefs, bakers, and food crusaders who gathered together from very different backgrounds, levels of experience, and parts of the world. I loved meeting and sharing the experience with each and every one of you and your inspiring, individual, kindred spirits. I’m so grateful that you came along.

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Lily Ramirez-Foran

Skye McAlpine

Claire Ptak

Kristin Perers

Nessa Robins

Anthony O’Toole

Hung Quach

Susan Bell

Mairead Jacob

Brittany Darrah

Niamh Browne

Jette Virdi

Shannon Butler Keane

Hannah Fullenkemper

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I’ll be back with some autumn recipes and a turkey update soon!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Images by Imen McDonnell 2014, Mushroom foraging with brush photo by Skye McAlpine. 

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Lens & Larder

14 Aug 2014

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{SOLD OUT}

I swear I have been dreaming of putting together a gathering that would bring people together to share a convivial food + learning experience in my adopted country for as long as I have been on this farm. My first instinct was to organize a series of farm-to-table harvest weekends. By and by, we’ve done this in small ways, knocking up country suppers with visiting friends which warble on till the wee hours of the morning, leaving little time before milking. So fantastic. Times to relish. Imagery to cherish. Pity, yet hopefully only “for now,” we don’t have the space to host more than a couple of folks. But, since serendipity is no stranger in our lives, after meeting and working with brilliant new friends in the West of Ireland, a plan was hatched to create a harbinger of food, photography and adventure….escape is the pastoral word that pops to mind; to a haven which feels a half a world away.

So now, I am absolutely thrilled to share the very first Lens & Larder creative retreat which will take place this autumn in the breathtaking Connemara region of Ireland. This workshop will focus on food photography and styling, and I am honored to announce that the magnificent talents of photographer, Beth Kirby and seasoned food stylist, Susan Spungen will be at the helm of our maiden voyage.

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Have you ever wished for someone to take you through selecting the best camera angle and lens, or how to make the best use of natural available light to create your own food story?

Have you ever wondered how to style that big bowl of creamy chowder to make it just as appetizing as the beautiful slice of bread with butter on the table next to it?

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Have you struggled with how to layer and compose a shot to compliment the food? Where does it all start? The food? The props? The camera angle? The light or location?

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Allow Beth and Susan to guide you in creating your very own repertoire of basic camera and styling techniques while exploring the stunning setting of Ballynahinch Castle in the Connemara region of Ireland. During your stay, you will find yourself foraging for wild edibles in the lush ancient woodlands on the estate of the 16th century Irish castle, rolling pastry like a styling pro and baking up a rustic galettes in a classic AGA stove, venturing to a bay on the Wild Atlantic Way to pull lobster and crab pots while jigging for mackerel (or just watching the action while breathing in the fresh sea air, if you please) and afterward gathering in a centuries-old island schoolhouse for lunch and more learning. Each evening you will retire to the stately and luxurious Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, voted best hotel in Ireland by Condé Nast Traveler in 2013, but more importantly, a sacred place that has provided artistic inspiration to kindred creatives for hundreds of years.

Participants will receive focused, personalized guidance in photography & styling for natural light settings—we will touch on camera basics, post-processing, food and prop styling and more.

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When:

October 21st to October 24th 2014

What:

2 days/3 nights = 2 full days filled with instruction interspersed with hands-on practice. There will be a small amount of time off to explore the area individually as well.

Included:  3 nights accommodation, 1 welcome reception with oysters and Stout, 3 full Irish breakfasts; 2 lunches; 3 dinners including wine, beer and cocktails; all food with a focus on locally sourced, artisan ingredients (vegetarian options will be catered for). One foraging expedition with photo and styling technique, one kitchen demo with photography & styling workshop, one boat trip from Roundstone to Innishlaken Island with schoolhouse location shoot and styling workshop. Tradition Irish music on one evening.

Excluded: Travel to Ireland and transportation to Ballynahinch Castle; Travel insurance; Extras

Cost:

USD $1,960 – EUR €1,470 per person sharing dual occupancy. If you prefer a private room, please add a surcharge of USD $160 – EUR €120.

A 90% non-refundable deposit will be required to secure your spot.

Final 10% Payment  will be due on October 10th, 2014.

Due to timing logistics, there will be absolutely no refunds for this workshop. Please make sure you can attend before securing a space for the retreat.

(We recommend that you to take travel insurance. Owning a SLR camera is preferable)

Beth Kirby is a Tennessee based photographer, writer, recipe developer, and stylist, and she is the creator of the blog Local Milk, a space devoted to seasonal recipes inspired by the south as well as travel, home, fashion, and entertaining. Local Milk was the winner of the 2014 Saveur magazine readers’ & editors’ choice award for best photography on a food blog, and her work aims to capture the beauty of the mundane & provide inspiration for slow living. When not behind the stove, lens, or keyboard she can be found combing farmers markets & flea markets alike in search of inspiration.

Susan Spungen is a Cookbook Author, Entertaining Expert, Culinary Consultant and Food Stylist for both print and film, having brought the food to life in major feature films such as Julia & Julia, It’s Complicated, Eat, Pray, Love, and Labor Day. She is a frequent contributor to national magazines such as Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, More Magazine, and Dr. Oz The Good Life, where she is a Contributing Editor. Susan is the co-author of Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook, and is the author of RECIPES: A Collection for the Modern Cook. Her latest book is What’s a Hostess to Do?, a guidebook for entertaining in the modern world.

To make a booking for this workshop, please email lensandlarder@gmail.com.  Registration will close on  August 27th, 2014.

We hope to learn with you at Lens & Larder……Pip Pip!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Images provided by Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Beth Kirby & Susan Spungen.  

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It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a curatorial here, but good things come to those who wait, right? As a fledgling food stylist embarking on my first cookery book, I am absolutely engrossed in the work of real professionals like Susan Spungen. At a time where it seems like virtually (literally) everyone seems to be an online stylist of some sort, I am even more reminded that it is important to revere the great + founding professionals working in the business of beautiful food.

Ironically, in my former life I had the experience of working with iconic food brands while producing ads for television. I won’t mention names, but on more than one occasion I could be found in a commercial NYC kitchen studio watching a camera rig cruise at 500 frames per second attempting to film mass amounts of pepperoni slices flying in the air. The result? Slow-motion pepperoni. The reality?  A food styling crew who had to work ultra fast and furious, making sure each and every slice of pepperoni was shiny and mouth-watering, and the process had to be repeated for essentially a full day for each flying ingredient. This crack team of stylists would cook and treat the ingredients as well as produce a VIP end product an ooey-gooey pizza that would rival the Mona Lisa. They were very serious. And, extremely gifted. I often thought that despite the fact that I had hired a director whose daily production rate cost more than a year of my university education, the stylists were the real directors on those shoots.

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I guess what I am trying to say is that creating something beautiful in the space of your own studio, on your own timeline, in your pajamas and pigtails (yes, by “you” I mean “me”) is far different than working on the set of a professional print or film shoot with a client who is someone other than yourself. Therein lies the profession.

Susan Spungen has inspired me ever since I took my wonderful mother-in-law to see the delicious film, Julie and Julia in 2009. I waited for the credits to roll up so I could see who had styled such a beautiful food-oriented masterpiece. Of course, Susan’s calling began long before that assignment. She has had an illustrious career in styling and cooking, beginning with her work with Martha Stewart in print editorial and television. She has styled the feature films Julie and Julia, Eat, Love, Pray, It’s Complicated, and most recently, the new Jason Reitman picture, Labor Day, in which  Time magazine reported that the lead character “cooks with sexual authority.” Imagine that creative brief! Susan is a constant contributor to cookbooks and magazines, see the latest Thanksgiving cover + editorial from Food and Wine below. Susan also styled the cover of this month’s Bon Appetit, which featured holiday cookies that appear as artfully drawn as they look chompworthy. She has written two books of her own, RECIPES: A Collection for the Modern Cook and her fabulous latest release, What’s a Hostess To Do?

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Let’s face it, I am smitten with all things styled by Susan Spungen.

When I approached Susan to be interviewed for my blog, she warmly accepted. Not only is her food inviting and beautiful, but she clearly has impeccable table manners too. {smile}

Here’s what she had to say…

Hi Susan, thank you so much for having a chat here. Tell us about your formative years…where are you from…where did you grow up?

I grew up outside of Philadelphia- but I left town at 20, never to return! My mom had a variety of careers, and was a bit of a trailblazer for women executives in the 70’s when she worked for Western Union, selling Mailgram- which was at the time revolutionary! She also owned a health food store that I kind of grew up in. My father was always in the paper business.

What was your first job as a food stylist?

I guess you could say that my very first experience was doing some shots for a caterer that I worked for at the time- it was an unknown world for me, but I knew I liked it, because it was bringing together my artistic side with my love of cooking. After that, my first real professional experience was my first day on the job for Martha Stewart Living, when I was hired as Food Editor. I worked with Maria Robledo as photographer, and was styling side by side with Martha.

Where do you live now? Are some places better than others to live in order to work as a stylist?

I live in NYC, which is probably one of the best places to work as a stylist since almost every major magazine is based here and does most of their shooting here. Major ad campaigns are shot here too. Other cities have slightly different markets, but still a lot of work. A lot of packaging gets shot in Chicago, and in LA and SF, TV commercials and cookbooks dominate.

You worked with Martha Stewart for many years. What did you take away from that experience? Has she influenced how you work or vice versa?

This is hard to answer briefly, but it was the seminal experience of my life. I learned so much while working there- about food, about people, about business. working there when I did, and with the people that I did, it gave me a lot of confidence in myself, and the courage to do things differently, even if they haven’t been done that way before.

You have styled the films Julie and Julia, It’s Complicated and Eat, Pray, Love.  How does styling for films differ from magazine shoots?

It couldn’t be more different! There are practical differences and artistic differences. Artistically, film food has to have real presence, just like actors do. It has to act, so to speak. To see what I mean, check out the peach pie in Labor Day, Jason Reitman’s latest film, out Christmas day. Logistically, it is way more difficult- my motto on film shoots is “Expect the unexpected”. You have to be prepared for anything, including prepping all day for a shot, only to have it not happen and be rescheduled for another day. This can happen repeatedly!

Did you ever work in commercial advertising production for tv or print? Is that role more restricting creatively?

Advertising is always less creative, whether it’s print or TV, because you have a very specific story to tell, and the agency and client are looking to achieve a very specific vision, so it is my job to deliver that, in the best way possible. There is some creativity in that, but not in the same way that there can be on an editorial shoot, where you really have to bring it, to elevate the food to a whole other level.

Which is your favourite medium to work in, and why?

I prefer a good meaty, editorial assignment with major payoff. Dec Bon App cover, case in point!

Take us through your process upon being awarded a new assignment.

I gather all of the information, which is usually recipes, test kitchen photos, reference photos, shot lists. Then I start breaking it down into a to-do list. My assistant usually makes the shopping list, which I then refine. If there are specific hard-to-get ingredients, I immediately start to source them, like say summer tomatoes in February or March (this happens every year) or pumpkins in July. (also an annual event)

Do you cook everything yourself? Or how does that generally work on a shoot? Are you both a food and prop stylist?

Yes. my assistant and I cook everything. That is the biggest part of the job- though shopping is the single most important part. Many people don’t realize that a food stylist cooks the food for a shoot. There’s a misconception that someone else cooks and then we come in with tweezers and brushes to “style” it.  Generally, I don’t do props, but I have on occasion. In NY, the jobs are separated.

Do you consider yourself a creative?

Absolutely!

How did you get your start in food, training etc?

Another long story- I was a student of fine arts, but always did restaurant work on the side, eventually, cooking took over as my career, but I tired of the food business, and longed to make more use of my creative, artistic impulses. This led me to connect with Martha Stewart when she was just starting the magazine. Ironically, I ended up being an executive and a department head, but it was still incredibly creative, because I had to impart the idea of how to be creative to my whole team, even when I wasn’t doing it myself. Problem-solving is creative in its own way, too.

When you prepare a meal at home with friends, family, even alone, is presentation important to you?

It is, but it comes naturally. I just try to make my food look pleasing and appetizing, even if it’s just for me. People often remark at my plate when I am going through a buffet line at a party “Why does yours look so good?” is something I hear a lot!

What do you love to eat?

What don’t I love? I love anything that’s good! I especially like Italian food- well made pasta is one of life’s great pleasures. Ice cream is another. Excellent French fries are up there- I guess I sound like a kid who loves comfort food! I love haute cuisine too, but only very rarely these days.

What advice would you give to people interested in a food styling career? Does it take a certain personality?

It is definitely more the just the talent. You have to be able to work well as part of a team, and learn to communicate really well, with the photo editor, the editor, the photographer, the prop stylist, your assistant, and on advertising jobs the agency people and clients. You might be doing a cookbook, where often the author is at the shoot, so you also have to be diplomatic at times, and be mindful that it is their baby you are working on. The best advice is always to seek out someone whose work you admire and try to assist them. Offer to work for free.

Is there any other career would you like to attempt? (forgive the James Lipton-ese)

Believe it or not, I sometimes have thought about acting! Also, maybe being a shrink!

Tell us the most surprising bit about food styling?

That it is often more about solving problems than being creative

What is the most important tool in your styling kit?

I guess I’d have to say my favorite tweezers and my Joyce Chen scissors (which everyone should have whether they are a stylist or not)

I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I have!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo of Susan Spungen by Jake Chessum. Pumpkin bars + Roast Turkey photos courtesy of Food and Wine Magazine photographed by Con Poulos + Bon Appetit cover shot by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriot.

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