The real chefs behind the movie chefs

  • People
  • Thursday, 14 Aug 2014

You may not know their names, but you definitely know their food. Here are the actual cooks on three ‘food’ films.

Food styling on movies, said Susan Spungen, who worked on Julie and Julia and Eat Pray Love, “can involved trickery and artifice, or very little at all”.

“People think everything is artificial” – mashed potato ice cream, roast chicken browned with motor oil, plastic fruit – “and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” she told

“Because of the Truth In Advertising laws, you have to use the real product, and you just have to manipulate it and keep it looking fresh,” she added. That can be achieved, for example, by a simple spritz of water to keep food from drying up or having fresh replacement food on standby.

Executive chef Colin Flynn, who worked with Spungen on J&J, said everything he used in the movie was edible and that they tried to keep the recipes as close as possible to Julia Child’s original ones.

“The boeuf bourguignon was essentially the same thing,” he told Smithsonian magazine. The dish was overcooked into a backened mess in the movie, and to achieve that, “We just essentially burnt the hell out of it! We burnt it to a point where we thought it would be burnt, and then we had to burn it some more.”

From street food to film

Chef Roy Choi is probably the first behind-the-scenes chef who has received almost at much publicity as the star of the film. Jon Favreau’s character on the recently released Chef runs a restaurant and food truck, and who better to mentor him than the street food king and food truck pioneer in the US?

As culinary consultant, Choi used his own experience to come up with the dishes served in the film.

Favreau told “Now Roy’s thinking what would taste good. I didn’t explain to him that in the movie we won’t actually have to eat the food, but he really wanted to come up with an entire menu for the restaurant.”

“For me I can’t think of making food that’s just for show,” said Choi. “Everything I cook has to be eaten so we approached the movie that way.”

But planning what food would be appear in the film wasn’t the only thing Choi did.

Favreau also learnt how a real chef behaves in his kitchen by watching Choi – from constantly watching the clock or checking on his sous chefs with a quick glance to tossing food in a wok and plating the dishes – and used all that for an authentic portrayal.

“I got a front row seat to a really cool documentary that I would have loved to watch,” Favreau said.

Indian inspiration

Celebrated for his groundbreaking New Indian cuisine which marries Indian flavours with Western technique, Bombay-born chef Floyd Cardoz was the perfect culinary consultant for The Hundred-Foot Journey, whose protagonist creates a fusion of Indian-French food.

“The food that Hassan cooks in the movie is food that I grew up with and love, food that I’ve created in all the restaurants I’ve ever worked in,” Cardoz told reporters at the film’s premiere.

The Hundred-foot Journey is based on a novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais. In a publicity video produced by the book’s publisher Simon & Schuster, Morais and Cardoz cook onion bhaji and a lamb stew that was featured in the movie.

Cardoz liked the dishes that Morais included in the book. For the film, he recreated them with dishes that “meant something to me”.

“I believe that food is very personal. Food is about taking a journey and when you taste food, it’s got to transport you somewhere to a place of comfort.

“So I made everything in that dish that would take him [the character Hassan] somewhere” he said.

Cardoz, season three winner of Top Chef Masters, found a number of similarities to his own life in Morais’ tale of a displaced family that opens an Indian restaurant in a small French town.

“Let the record show,” Morais tells the camera, “that I only met chef Cardoz after I wrote my book.”

“It’s incredible to me that here we have the real life Hassan, the real chef who has made the crossover,” he said.

Related story:

5 films you should not watch on an empty stomach

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