Q&A: Susan Spungen on Creating Beautiful Food with Unique Twists
How the recipe developer and food stylist comes up with recipes.
Susan Spungen (Photo by Steven Kasher)
I first met Susan Spungen at an IACP conference. She had just left her job as founding food editor at Martha Stewart Living. Now Susan is a food stylist, recipe developer and cookbook author. You’ve seen her food in movies: She was the culinary consultant and food stylist on Julie & Julia: It’s Complicated; and Eat, Pray, Love.
She is the author of several cookbooks, including Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings; Recipes: A Collection for the modern Cook; and Strawberries. She co-authored the best-selling Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook. She also taught Meryl Streep to flip an omelet.
Susan has an artist’s eye when it comes to recipe development and styling. Her work is vibrant, bursting with color and flavor.
Here’s a look at Susan’s recipe development process:
Q, How long have you been in the food business?
A. Honestly, since college, I’ve had my head in food, amassing culinary knowledge. I worked in food service for a long time before I got into media for Martha Stewart Living in 1990.
Q. How do you define the recipe development process? What’s your goal?
A. My goal is to put a twist on something so you couldn’t find the same recipe in a million places. Let’s say Beouf Bourguignon, in my last cookbook. I always found myself fishing around for the veggies and not wanting to eat a huge portion of meat. My twist was to make it more about the sauce and the vegetables. I just tipped the balance to make it more modern.
Boeuf Bourguinon. (Photo by Susan Spungen, used with permission.)
I’m not known for 30-minute recipes, but I just want it to be worth it for people if they’re going to embark on a recipe that’s a little more involved. I want them to get all the accolades from friends and family.
Q. How do you come up with a concept?
A. Usually I do it in an old-fashioned way. I scribble on a page of a legal pad. I just start scribbling down ideas for things people haven’t seen before, like the Figgy Cornmeal Cookies. Or I’ll look online and see if the same idea is out there.
I based this recipe on one I’d published in Martha Stewart Living in 1994. It was a favorite and something I had made as a pastry chef in 1990. I have the full set of Martha Stewart Living archives, and I dug out that recipe. I remade it as written and found it had too many figs, and it was too expensive. There were a lot of things I didn’t like, so I remade it in an Italian way. The filling has red wine and black pepper, and the cookie has cornmeal. So the ideas evolve on paper.
Figgy Cornmeal Cookies. (Photo by Susan Spungen, used with permission.)
I go through periods of ideating, creating and writing. It’s a never-ending process. Sometimes I do it in front of the TV at night. I just keep