Hollywood Food Stylists Know: You Can't Film Styrofoam Cake And Eat It, Too | KUOW News and Information

Hollywood Food Stylists Know: You Can't Film Styrofoam Cake And Eat It, Too

Feb 18, 2015
Originally published on February 20, 2015 12:13 pm

In the parking lot of a small Los Angeles studio, food stylist Melissa McSorley is re-creating the dish that saved the day for the hero of a recent film. "The Cubano sandwich ... was the heart and soul of the movie Chef," she says.

In the film, actor Jon Favreau cooks his way through fancy Delmonico steaks and caviar to find his Zen making Cubanos on a beat-up food truck. He follows a recipe from Roy Choi, the chef whose Korean taco truck helped launch the street food movement in LA. As food stylist, McSorley's job was to get Choi's recipe on screen, assembling pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and very crunchy dill pickles on a crisp baguette.

Over the course of filming Chef, McSorley estimates that she and her team made about 800 Cubanos. Why so many? Favreau, who also directed the film, says, "The trick with food on a set — you have to eat and then you have to eat again, and then you have to eat again for every angle and every take."

On the set of his forthcoming film The Jungle Book, Favreau explains that he wanted the food on Chef to taste good all day long so actors looked as excited about their Cubanos on take 12 as they did on take one.

"A lot of veteran actors find excuses not to eat in scenes," he says. "And you always know the new actor, because they're hungry and they're like, 'Oh my God, that looks so good!' and they tear into the birthday cake. And the seasoned, old, salty pro picks at it with their fork, but if you watch closely, they never actually put it in their mouth."

That's because the veterans know they'll be munching that cake for six, maybe eight hours. And even the most delicious stuff can get old after that long.

The Cubano Melissa McSorley made in that parking lot was fabulous, but good-tasting food isn't always her goal. If certain ingredients have to last a long time on camera, food stylists have to get creative by making, say, fake ice cream with a knob of butter coated in sugar. According to McSorley, one of the most common faked movie foods is pretty exotic.

"Oysters are always scripted into scenes because they're very sensual, but many actors don't want to slurp those down on camera," she says. "So I tend to make a lot of fake oysters, which I make out of flan — a custard — which I then color and air brush, and I shape it. It perfectly slides out of the oyster shell."

Then there's caviar. The upcoming film Danny Collins, starring Al Pacino, has a party scene that called for a huge serving of the tiny, shiny fish eggs. "They wanted a mound of caviar a foot tall and it needed to last all day," McSorley says. "And they did a close up on it and it looked absolutely real." What were they made of? "That's my secret. I'm not telling that one."

Danny Collins' birthday party scene gave McSorley another challenge: A cake was created in Pacino's likeness. According to the script, it wasn't supposed to be sliced, but just before one of the last takes the director changed his mind.

"The cake wasn't real," McSorley says. "So we had to cut the cake that was made out of Styrofoam, and I had to use a saw in order to do it because none of my knives could get through it. And then we had to layer in cake so it did look like it was real and then we had to send people scurrying to many markets to find white layer cake so it looked like people in the background could be actually be eating the cake."

As a food stylist, McSorley will stand over a hot stove or a hot glue gun for hours — anything to make the food look luscious and real.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Plot, characters, dialogue, maybe throw in a car chase - those are the basic ingredients of most movies. Add food to that list, and you get the latest installment in Susan Stamberg's annual pre-Oscars exploration of odd movie jobs. This year, her miniseries begins with a film's food stylist, the person responsible for the look and taste of what's served on screen.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: Can you smell the sizzle? Pork, a little deli ham - food stylist Melissa McSorley is re-creating for us some food that saved the day for the hero of a recent movie.

MELISSA MCSORLEY: So today what I'm making for you is the Cubano sandwich. This sandwich was the heart and soul of the movie "Chef."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHEF")

JOHN FAVREAU: (As Carl Casper) Watch me. Watch what I'm doing.

STAMBERG: In "Chef," actor John Favreau cooks his way through fancy Delmonacos caviar-ed eggs to find his Zen on a beat-up food truck making Cubanos.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHEF")

FAVREAU: (As Carl Casper) I want you to watch for the bread to get golden. I want you to watch for the cheese to melt.

STAMBERG: Actor Favreau is following a recipe from chef Roy Choi. His Korean taco truck helped launch the street food movement in LA. As food stylist, Melissa McSorley's job was to get Choi's recipe on screen - the pork, the ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and very crunchy dill pickles on a crisp baguette.

For these Cubano scenes, how many sandwiches did you need to make?

MCSORLEY: Over the course of "Chef," we estimated that we made 800 Cubanos.

STAMBERG: Eight-hundred? Why so many?

FAVREAU: The trick with food on a set - you have to eat, and then you have to eat again. And then you have to eat again for every angle and every take.

MCSORLEY: We're rolling. We're rolling on (inaudible).

STAMBERG: We caught up with actor-writer-director John Favreau on a set in downtown LA, directing his upcoming film "The Jungle Book" - other directing credits, two "Iron Man" movies. On "Chef," Favreau wanted the food to taste good all day long so actors looked as excited about their Cubanos on take 12 as they did on take one.

FAVREAU: If you notice, a lot of veteran actors find excuses not to eat in scenes. And you always know the new actor because they're hungry, and they're like, oh, my God, that looks so good. And they tear into the birthday cake. And the seasoned, old, salty pro picks at with their fork. But if you watch closely, they never actually put it in their mouth.

STAMBERG: That's because the veterans know they will be munching that cake for six, maybe eight hours. Even with the most delicious stuff can get old after that long.

Fabulous.

Food stylist Melissa McSorley's Cubano was fabulous. But sometimes she makes food that doesn't taste that good, but looks good on screen. If certain ingredients have to last a long time on camera, the stylist has to be creative - make fake ice cream, say, with a knob of butter coated in sugar. Melissa says one of the most common faked movie foods is pretty exotic - oysters.

MCSORLEY: Oysters are always scripted into scenes because they're very sensual. Many actors don't want to slurp those down on camera. So I tend to make a lot of fake oysters, which I make out of flan.

STAMBERG: A custard?

MCSORLEY: A custard, which I then color and airbrush. And I shape it. It perfectly slides out of the oyster shell.

STAMBERG: Then there's caviar. In the upcoming film "Danny Collins," Al Pacino plays a famous aging rocker. A party scene called for a huge serving of the tiny, shiny, little fish eggs.

MCSORLEY: They wanted a mound of caviar a foot tall. And it needed to last all day. And they did a close-up on it, and it looked absolutely real.

STAMBERG: And what was it?

MCSORLEY: That's my secret.

STAMBERG: You're not telling me how you made your fake caviar?

MCSORLEY: I'm not telling that one.

STAMBERG: "Danny Collins'" birthday party gave Melissa another challenge - a cake was created in Pacino's likeness. According to the script, it was not sliced. But just before one of the last takes, the director changed his mind - slice it.

MCSORLEY: However, the cake wasn't real. So we had to cut the cake that was made out of Styrofoam, and I had to use a saw in order to do it because none of my knives could get through it. And then we had to layer in cake so it did look like it was real. And then we had to send people scurrying to many markets to find white layer cake so it looked like people in the background could actually be eating the cake.

STAMBERG: And it didn't occur to you - or I bet it occurred to you, but you probably didn't dare go to the director and say, you know, that's another 10 hours of work.

MCSORLEY: Correct. We got it done.

STAMBERG: Saws, shellac, glue, the food stylist job involves stuff you won't find at Williams-Sonoma. Melissa McSorley stands over a hot stove or a hot glue gun for hours, anything to make the food look luscious and, yes, real. In movie land, still thinking about that massive mound of caviar, I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

I've invented fake caviar. Tell me if I'm right. You get some gelatin. You put some India ink in it. You wait till it hardens, and then you get teeny, little ball makers and create the rows.

MCSORLEY: And you use the Keebler elves to do it?

STAMBERG: The Keebler elves is what I forgot (laughter).

GREENE: And on tomorrow's program, Susan's Hollywood Jobs series continues with actors who play more roles than anyone in the industry.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm the soldier, the person at the party. I'm the cop. Was this back door open when you guys got here?

GREENE: Background voices in movies, people you hear but never see.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A couple more paper bags, please? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.