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Susan Spungen Transcript

 “Superstar Food Stylist Susan Spungen”

Alison Roman:               Hello, this is Alison Roman, author of Nothing Fancy and you are listening to Radio Cherry Bombe.

Kerry Diamond:             Hey everyone. Welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe, the number one female focused food podcast in the universe. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond. How's everybody doing? It's been a rough few days at Cherry Bombe HQ. As many of you probably know, we postponed our annual Jubilee conference, which was scheduled for April 5th. Drew Barrymore, Mashama Bailey and Christina Tosi were our keynote speakers, and dozens of other women were scheduled to speak, sign books and serve up some great food and drink.

Kerry Diamond:             We had our wonderful crew of volunteers ready to go and so many of you who believe in us and love the day as much as we do bought tickets and booked trips. But all of that is on hold. I'll be honest, it's been crushing. We've been working on Jubilee for months, we had a beautiful day planned for everyone. And since we like to be honest about finances around here, it's our major source of income for the year. But I can't really wallow for too long, can I? So many of us are in the same boat. It's going to be very rough going for our friends in the food service industry, and for all of us out there who own small businesses.

Kerry Diamond:             I cried a little over the past few days, no surprise to anyone who knows me. But yesterday, I put my big girl pants on, called all of our sponsors and announced that we're going to do a virtual version of Jubilee. We'll have updates for you in a few weeks. But if there are any digital conference specialists out there, DM me. This is definitely new territory for us. In response to what's going on, we launched a special section of our website to share news and resources related to how small businesses can get some financial relief. We only have info for Austin and New York City right now, but we'll be adding more as information comes in. If you know of any resources being made available where you live, email us at with the subject line Resources.

Kerry Diamond:             Okay, I'll stop talking because we actually do have a guest today. Susan Spungen was brave enough to leave her house and join me in the studio. She's here to talk about her brand new cookbook, Open Kitchen: Inspired Recipes for Casual Gatherings. I'm sure many of you know Susan. But if you don't, get ready to meet your next kitchen crush. Love Martha Stewart Living, Susan was one of the very first food editors, daydreamed about the food in Julie & Julia, Eat Pray Love or It's complicated. That was her food styling in all three movies.

Kerry Diamond:             Before we get to Susan, let's welcome our newest sponsor to the Bombesquad, Smithfield Culinary. Smithfield Culinary offers an extensive portfolio of products, from Angus beef to breakfast sausage to my favorite pizza topping pepperoni, for retail, food service and deli customers. For recipe inspiration and more, visit You can also pop over to their Instagram account @smithfieldculinary and say hi.

Kerry Diamond:             Also, thank you to the wines of Rioja for supporting this show. Rioja produces an incredible range of styles, reds, whites, rosés, and my favorite, sparkling wines. To learn more visit If you're stocking up on wine this weekend and I know I will be, look for Rioja at your favorite local wine store. All right, everybody enjoy my conversation with Susan Spungen.

Kerry Diamond:             You're here because your new cookbook Open Kitchen literally just came out, Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             I feel like you were working on this book for a really long time.

Susan Spungen:            I was. I think when I had you for lunch, I was definitely ... You were a guinea pig for some of my ideas.

Kerry Diamond:             And that was a few years ago. When was your last cookbook out?

Susan Spungen:            Oh, well, it depends what you count as my last cookbook.

Kerry Diamond:             What do you count as your last cookbook?

Susan Spungen:            Well, I guess my first one that came out in 2005, which was a long time ago because that was another, similarly sort of broad general cookbook, and I have done a couple other books since then. But they weren't as much an expression of me and my cooking style as this one is.

Kerry Diamond:             I often think of you as a food stylist maybe because of the movies and some other things.

Susan Spungen:            Right.

Kerry Diamond:             But you really are so much more than that.

Susan Spungen:            That's right.

Kerry Diamond:             When you have to describe yourself to people, how do you describe yourself?

Susan Spungen:            Well, I guess I've been picking up on that multi hyphenate lately. I wish we had that catch all that they use in England, which is food writer, because in England food writer-

Kerry Diamond:             We do have the term food writer in America.

Susan Spungen:            But it doesn't mean the same thing.

Kerry Diamond:             Really?

Susan Spungen:            No.

Kerry Diamond:             Explain that.

Susan Spungen:            Here it means someone who only writes and in England, like Diana Henry or Nigella Lawson would be considered a food writer, somebody who does recipes, does cookbooks, maybe is even a food stylist. It's like instead of having all the hyphens, they just put it all under food writer.

Kerry Diamond:             Oh, I didn't know that.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             Okay.

Susan Spungen:            So there isn't one term. So I usually say cookbook author/food stylist, because the thing was I was an editor for so many years. So the food styling was kind of a fallback when I left Martha Stewart Living where I was so many things, I ran the whole food department and oversaw the creation of all the recipes for the magazine and all the different ancillary businesses and television, everything that we have.

Kerry Diamond:             All right, we have to go back to the beginning for the whole Martha Stewart thing because it's a fascinating story. You really were there at the beginning. So let's just take people back. So Martha did her kind of groundbreaking cookbook, and that was the first thing that came out. That was Entertaining, right?

Susan Spungen:            Right.

Kerry Diamond:             And then the spin off magazine, Martha Stewart Living happened.

Susan Spungen:            Well, she did many, many books before the magazine happened.

Kerry Diamond:             Oh really? Okay.

Susan Spungen:            Oh yeah, yeah, yeah the Entertaining came out in like '81, really, really and that was ... She had this robust catering business in Westport, where she lived and worked, post stockbroker, post model career, was like at least her third career. And she became a very sought after caterer and her first book Entertaining, she was actually photographing I think a lot of the real events that she was putting on. That's what that book was all about, and probably added some other things, other content too. But a lot of them were like, oh, here's a party at the Frick, and that kind of thing or the Cooper Hewitt. I remember still there was some beautiful party, I think at the Cooper Hewitt.

Kerry Diamond:             So she does a few cookbooks.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, a whole lot. Maybe like 10 or 12 to be honest. She did like at least three Quick Cook, even the gardening book she did. She had done a lot of books, and had started to become a more major kind of lifestyle celebrity. I remember seeing her starting a line of stuff, maybe with Kmart in early thing. So, yeah. So then they started working on the magazine about a decade after that book came out. So like right around 1990, '91.

Kerry Diamond:             Okay, so she decides to launch a magazine, Martha Stewart Living. How do you wind up getting a job with her?

Susan Spungen:            Well, so they were still in this sort of test issue phase and trying to figure out who was going to publish it. Was it going to be timing, or was it going to be Conde Nast? There were conversations going on. I think at this point, I think time, I don't remember exactly, but it was definitely timing. But it was like on a trial basis, and they did three test issues. And I contributed a little bit to each one of those because it was kind of like well come work with us, but we don't really have a job yet for you.

Kerry Diamond:             How were you on their radar?

Susan Spungen:            Oh, how I was on their radar? Yeah, so this was it. Susan Magrino who is a publicist still and Martha's publicist.

Kerry Diamond:             Major New York City power publicist.

Susan Spungen:            Right, right. So she was a friend of a friend and we all went out to Nell's one night, which dates me I know. But it was a really cool club back in the day. And we just were all there together and hung out for a whole evening. And I had gotten this idea that I wanted to be a food stylist because I wanted to get out of the service industry because I had been doing it catering, mostly catering, but cooking in general. I was a chef at a sort of retail store, I was kind of doing everything I could except for restaurants to the extent that I could. Because I wanted to be in food, but I didn't really want to work on a line because I kind of always just ... It was just self preservation. I knew that wasn't a good path for me.

Kerry Diamond:             Did you know food stylist and food editor was a job?

Susan Spungen:            No, I didn't because there was no social media. I literally had no idea and so I will retell the story that I've told a few times recently, which is that I saw an article in The New York Times, which you can still Google and see the actual printed version. I mean, not Google look it up on New York Times, it was called food styling.

Kerry Diamond:             I'm Googling it right now.

Susan Spungen:            How to make the basil blush. If you just look up how to make the basil blush, it was this article and it was like on the front page of what was then called the food section or the living section. I read this article and I was like, wow, food styling. I literally had no idea. I mean, I sort of had a hunch that somebody somewhere was making all of this food that you saw in magazines, but I didn't know anything about the industry whatsoever.

Kerry Diamond:             This is hilarious. It's right here.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             Food Styling: The Art Of Making the Basil Blush by Dena Kleiman.

Susan Spungen:            Right.

Kerry Diamond:             Did you get to meet Dena Kleiman?

Susan Spungen:            No.

Kerry Diamond:             Feel like you owe her?

Susan Spungen:            Yeah. Well, the funny thing is, I recently was on CBS The Dish to promote this book, and I mentioned this article and the woman who was styling my segment said I was standing right there behind Delores Custer. I was her assistant. So it was like crazy full circle thing.

Kerry Diamond:             I think you pointed this out too. It says, far from glamorous. A stylist's day can start at 8:00 a.m. and run until midnight. A stylist typically receives $500 a day, plus overtime and can earn as much as $125,000 a year.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             Yeah, that day rate has, if anything, probably gone down a little.

Susan Spungen:            It's more or less the same, which is really pathetic.

Kerry Diamond:             It's depressing. The article is November 7th, 1990.

Susan Spungen:            So I read that article. And at the time, I was like, wow, 125 a year, that sounded pretty good in 1990. So I was like, I should do this, because it wasn't just for the money, though. It was that it sounded creative and challenging. And so I really was trying to figure out how I could get into this field. And that's how I met Martha because I was ... That's what I was looking for when I found Martha which turned into a much, much bigger job. So I met Susan Magrino. We talked, she gave me her card. She was at the time at Crown Publisher and I gave her my number on a scrap of paper. I didn't have a card and I'm not kidding you. A year later, she called me.

Kerry Diamond:             A year later.

Susan Spungen:            A year later. So she held on to my number, remembered me and said that Martha was starting a magazine and looking for good food people. So she called me and still I jokingly say, but it's probably true that maybe I was the only food person she'd actually come across. She remembered me and because she was in PR, she wasn't like really meeting people who were like-

Kerry Diamond:             You didn't have a rep, you didn't have a portfolio.

Susan Spungen:            Oh, no, no.

Kerry Diamond:             You didn't have any of that.

Susan Spungen:            I had nothing. She said, "Do you want to meet Martha?" So I said, "Well, yes, of course I do." And then from then on, I think our first meeting was at her house that she was still under construction in East Hampton. I literally went over to her house and we just chatted one on one the two of us, it wasn't like I went through this interview process sort of corporate thing. I met Martha and then she said, "Well, we're doing a shoot over here on such and such date. Can you come and help us?" And I said, "Yeah."

Susan Spungen:            I was catering out there in the summer. That's why I was out there. So I was out like every weekend in the Hamptons, because the caterer had like housing and I always found a way to kind of get myself to the beach. So that's what I was doing. I was working weekends for this caterer. And so I went over and met with her and she said, "Come back on this day," and I said, "Sure." And I showed up with my knives and my apron, and I ended up ironing a duvet cover the whole entire day.

Kerry Diamond:             That's all good food stylists do.

Susan Spungen:            And Martha loves hearing this story because at my book launch, when you asked me about this, and she was in the audience, she tipped you off to this question, didn't she?

Kerry Diamond:             She did. She said ask you what your first job was for her.

Susan Spungen:            So I don't know if that was some sort of test or I think honestly, knowing Martha as I got to know her, I think she just wanted to see if I was good people and if they wanted to ... I don't think it was like, preconceived, like well let's make her iron a duvet all day and see how she does. I think it was more like, just come over and be with us and we'll see.

Kerry Diamond:             How long were you there total?

Susan Spungen:            12 years.

Kerry Diamond:             And what were those 12 years like?

Susan Spungen:            Well, an incredible learning experience, obviously I mean, because I went from being fairly young to not so young when I was there and I really, really grew in that job and with that job. So, it started out, we did for ... When I came on it's when they officially launched so Time Inc. said yeah, here's the green light, we're doing this. So then I think that's when they were staffing up, so I got hired as the food editor, then I did meet ... I had already met, I'd already worked on a couple shoots so I'd met Martha, I'd met Lisa Wagner, I'd met a few people. And then I did have a slightly more formal interview process. But still, it was like, okay, you seem good.

Kerry Diamond:             Our younger listeners might not realize this, but the magazine was massively, massively influential back then. Did you know it at the time?

Susan Spungen:            I think I had a feeling because I was very, very excited to be involved. And it seemed like, I just saw the possibilities. It just seemed like, not only just for me personally, but for what we were doing. It seemed like we were doing something really, really exciting, but also fun. I mean, I had to recently go back to pull some photos actually for that same CBS segment that I mentioned. They didn't use any of them, but they wanted ... I basically had to keep looking through. They wanted a lot of different pictures of my career. And so I went through all my boxes of pictures from my Martha days.

Susan Spungen:            I was usually outside cooking and in the most gorgeous locales, Ohio or Albuquerque, New Mexico or all over the place and most often outdoors. I was like, wow, this looks crazy because I think they were looking for a picture of me like in chef's whites in the kitchen and I just didn't have those pictures because that's not really what my career was. It was one adventure after another and it was ... So it was really exciting. I learned a lot. I got to go to probably half of our 50 states on photo shoots. I don't really have the budget for that kind of thing anymore. But at the time, it was literally like we had no budget, we just did whatever we needed to do to get the story.

Kerry Diamond:             We'll be right back with Susan Spungen after this quick break.

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Kerry Diamond:             They've invested in food service and the culinary community through everything they do. Their goal is to inspire you, to surprise you, and to enrich your knowledge of the industry and innovate for your future. They want to know where you want your menu to go, and then give you the tools to take you there. For recipe inspiration and more, visit Let's return to my conversation with Susan Spungen.

Kerry Diamond:             You were very honest about the first book didn't really do as well as you were hoping.

Susan Spungen:            Right.

Kerry Diamond:             So many people dream of having a cookbook.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             Dream of having projects and doing things that will take off. How do you deal with that when something doesn't live up to what your expectations are?

Susan Spungen:            It was very disappointing, obviously. But now I feel like because of social media, one can control their own destiny much, much more than in those days. I think I was being naive about ... I mean, I really had no platform at all and I was naive about that. I thought that it would connect with more people, but it didn't. But I feel like now it's a different story because I can contribute to my own success a lot more.

Kerry Diamond:             Your Instagram is great.

Susan Spungen:            Thank You.

Kerry Diamond:             Did you take very naturally to Instagram?

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, but it took time. If you go back, I definitely also got better at it, like anybody. I mean, I was always visual. That's why I went to art school. I wanted to be an artist and being a stylist, I knew how to make the food look good, but I wasn't as good at actually taking the pictures and creating my own compositions and figuring out what's my kind of style, which I finally decided is just basically in your face.

Kerry Diamond:             Yeah. Let's talk about your style. I feel like I know a Susan Spungen photo when I see it. So if you had to explain to someone, what are some of your signatures?

Susan Spungen:            Well, it's funny because people have said to me, like somebody was at the movie, It's Complicated, which I worked on and they were like, I recognized that that was your food and I didn't know until the credits that you worked on it. So I'm not 100% sure what it is, but as far as my Instagram goes, I think like I said, it's very colorful, it's very full frame and it's kind of in your face.

Susan Spungen:            Because when I work on a photo shoot or even a movie for that matter, it's sort of like, is it close enough? Is it close enough? It's like I want to see the detail and really get into the food. So I'm not going to be that person who shoots the platter that is like a tiny little dot in the middle of a big composition. I always want to like really kind of get into the details of the food. I think this book follows that style because we used my test pictures. Since I get to control the whole process, I'm the stylist, I'm the editor, I'm the author, I get to say this is how I want. Even though my photographers are wonderful.

Kerry Diamond:             Oh yeah, tell us. We love your photographers. Tell us who took the pictures.

Susan Spungen:            Gentl and Hyers, so Andrea Gentl and her husband Marty Hyers, Martin Hyers, and Ayesha Patel helped on props. We didn't have a prop stylist on every single shoot but we always had either her or her assistant. But I collected a lot of stuff my own personal stuff for this book too, but she really helped put it together and add a lot more stuff, so I didn't really have enough for a whole entire book.

Kerry Diamond:             I'm flipping through it again. It's such a beautiful book.

Susan Spungen:            Thank you. People keep saying that but I don't want it to just be a pretty.

Kerry Diamond:             I haven't started cooking from it yet, but just based on the photos.

Susan Spungen:            Well, people have.

Kerry Diamond:             Yeah. What are people loving? What seems to be the most popular?

Susan Spungen:            They're loving the book. I mean, I feel like people are loving what they try. I mean, there's an instagramer Alexandra Cooks, I think she's a Bombesquad person. I actually met her last year at the Jubilee.

Kerry Diamond:             Oh, you did?

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, she did the grilled chicories which has sort of evolved into grilled romaine. It had romaine and chicories in the recipe but she did just romaine and radicchio with kind of almost Caesar ish kind of dressing. A lot of people have been making that because she put it on her Instagram, so people have been loving that salad. I think a lot of people are doing obviously the easier things first because they're just easier to get into, some of the salads, the banana bread, the chocolate ginger cookies.

Kerry Diamond:             You're very fond of your banana bread.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             That much I know. Why do you love it so much?

Susan Spungen:            Well, I think banana bread, it's a good entry level recipe I think for this book, but it has a twist. It's got a lot of buckwheat flour in it, which gives it a really wonderful flavor and texture and doesn't anyone always have like three rotten bananas sitting around?

Kerry Diamond:             Always.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             You know what though, I found out you can let a banana go too far. I put them in my fridge because I was down at the Charleston Wine & Food Festival having a very good time. I came back and I was like, oh, I put those bananas in my fridge to make some banana bread. I'm like you know what? I bet they're okay, I'll unpeel them and freeze them. And yeah, they were beyond.

Susan Spungen:            Oh yeah. Yeah, they can be too mushy or too liquidy, but I usually throw them, peel them and put them in the freezer if I'm leaving my house and there's bananas-

Kerry Diamond:             That's what I was trying to do.

Susan Spungen:            Because I don't really like to eat them when they're too ripe, but for banana bread, they're good when they're really ripe.

Kerry Diamond:             I had a boyfriend who would put bananas in the freezer and not peel them.

Susan Spungen:            Well, that's stupid because it's really hard to get the peel off.

Kerry Diamond:             It's impossible. Don't do that.

Susan Spungen:            So I just peel them, throw them in a Ziploc and then I either use it in a smoothie or banana bread. But so the real thing about my banana bread is that it has a delicious glaze that I highly recommend that has like you know your typical confectioner's sugar and milk but it also has tahini and maple and then it has toasted buckwheat groats, the whole buckwheat all over the top which gives it this crunch. So I just think it's pretty special banana bread.

Kerry Diamond:             It sounds great. And what is this baked ricotta? I just stumbled upon that.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, that's another simple one that people have been doing. And again, it's just really I think I have everything memorized. I think it's just really good fresh ricotta, you have to start with good fresh ricotta and eggs. I think it has a little garlic, thyme.

Kerry Diamond:             I never thought of baking ricotta. Well, you know what? That's so silly. Because when you make like a lasagna or something, you're kind of baking ricotta.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             But I never thought about baking it on its own.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah. It's just something simple. I have the whole chapter that chapter is called Simple Starters and just things that are not heavy lifts that you could serve for nibbles when people are coming over for dinner. But the nice thing about that is it sort of makes almost like ... It's almost like a cheesecake, because it's eggs and ricotta and you bake it. But this one's not sweet, but you could make a sweet version if you wanted to. And then it's really nice warm. It's almost like a souffle, but it's also really good cold the next day, and then it's like sliceable.

Kerry Diamond:             And then one that we had at the event last week. That was so good. And again, this one's relatively simple. The burrata with pickled cherries.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             So the burrata obviously, you're not going to make burrata from scratch. But if you are, bravo, tell us how you do the pickled cherries.

Susan Spungen:            It's just a very simple pickle with sugar, I think red wine vinegar, a little bit of sugar and salt probably.

Kerry Diamond:             How long, it's a quick pickle?

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, you could use them like within an hour or two, but they'll also keep for weeks in the jar in the fridge and you could also even though they're a little bit vinegary, you could put them over ice cream, you could put them in salads, serve them with some grilled pork. They're really yummy, and a good way to extend the season although I feel like cherry season lasts a really long time these days like all summer.

Kerry Diamond:             You do? I feel like I blink and it's gone.

Susan Spungen:            No, I feel like strawberries, yeah, but cherries seem to last forever these days.

Kerry Diamond:             Maybe also sour cherries season is so short.

Susan Spungen:            Oh, the sour cherry is short.

Kerry Diamond:             Sour cherries are so and some years we don't even have sour cherries, which is heartbreaking.

Susan Spungen:            They're super expensive, but they are absolutely worth buying and pitting.

Kerry Diamond:             And freezing.

Susan Spungen:            I actually had someone pit a lot of them on the shoot because I had them. Actually Imogen Kwok, who worked as one of the assistants on the book, and I made her I said made her pit all these cherries, which I then did use the next year.

Kerry Diamond:             You froze them for a whole year?

Susan Spungen:            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerry Diamond:             Okay, okay, that's good.

Susan Spungen:            They were fine.

Kerry Diamond:             I want to go back to food styling for a second and talk about some food styling tips.

Susan Spungen:            Sure.

Kerry Diamond:             Definitely you look at Instagram and some people are just better at food styling than others.

Susan Spungen:            Right.

Kerry Diamond:             Are there a few tips that you could offer that anybody could do? I'm sure when you look at photos on Instagram, you're like, oh, they could have done this or that.

Susan Spungen:            I personally like things to feel very natural and real. I'm still not a fan of people putting a lot of things like just for the Gram that are not actually edible, like on top of a tart. For instance, unpitted cherries or something like that or like a tart that's only decorated in a little crescent shape on one side. That's why I like my pomegranate cranberry tart. I have the ring of pomegranate seeds going all the way around because you could make something beautiful and graphic out of anything. And a lot of people kind of rely on that for Instagram. I feel it's too much sometimes. And it's like, well, how are you going to eat this thing with unpitted cherries all over it, for instance?

Kerry Diamond:             I wonder that sometimes.

Susan Spungen:            Or what about the people who get the other side of the tart. They get nothing?

Kerry Diamond:             Or the unbaked pie.

Susan Spungen:            So tips I feel like are to try to make things look beautiful, but the way you'd really serve them and the way you'd really eat them. That's the way I like to see food on Instagram, something looking really just appetizing. And that's always about freshness. And the funny thing about Instagram versus like a real photo shoot is that it's a lot easier to do that because you're not dealing with a whole crew of people and 12 different opinions where basically what you have to do is keep the food on life support.

Susan Spungen:            When it's just you snapping a picture with your, in my case an iPhone, or a better camera, it's very instant and you're controlling the whole situation. So it's easy to get the food in that most beautiful moment before the salad starts wilting or things start drying out. So I guess my advice to people always is to just make sure that things that are supposed to be moist are moist and things that are supposed to fresh aren't wilted. I mean, that's like the number one rule. And then I think just to make it look pleasing and find good light.

Kerry Diamond:             Good light.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             Always comes down to good light.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             You talk about people with opinions. So that's a good segue into your movie career. Because I am sure there are a lot of people with a lot of opinions starting with the director on the sets. How did you break into the movies?

Susan Spungen:            The first movie I did was Julie & Julia.

Kerry Diamond:             For that to be your first movie is crazy.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             So hopefully everyone's seen Julie & Julia at this point. Starred Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, and was made by Nora Ephron.

Susan Spungen:            Right. So Nora Ephron actually called me herself on the phone, which is pretty unusual for any movie or anybody of her stature, but that sort of shows how committed she was to this project and how personally she was involved in it. So she literally called me on the phone. I happened to be home.

Kerry Diamond:             So Nora Ephron calls you directly.

Susan Spungen:            Yes.

Kerry Diamond:             Did you believe it was Nora Ephron?

Susan Spungen:            Not really, not at first because I mean, of course I guess some people would have been like, I don't know who that is. But I very well knew who it was. I had a pretty high opinion of her. She made many movies and had a storied career as a writer. And yes, she called me and I did think it was a friend of mine playing a trick on me at first because he sometimes did things like that, like, would just call me up and start doing a voice. I didn't say it, but I was thinking that was my first impression. I was like, no way. And so she just very quickly went into it and she said she'd tried to email me and then it turned out she just like left off the .com or something, which was the reason I didn't respond to her email.

Kerry Diamond:             Just that.

Susan Spungen:            Obviously, I would have responded if I had seen her email, but I didn't. She very quickly just said, I'm making a movie about Julia Child. I don't think she told me it was based on Julie & Julia, which was a book about a blog. She just said, I'm making a movie about Julia Child. And I think she said, I asked people who should do the food for my movie and they said you. So I think she did ask Amanda Hesser and also Ed Levine. I think she got some-

Kerry Diamond:             Amanda Hesser from Food52 who has a cameo.

Susan Spungen:            Right well, pretty big cameo. Yeah. A big little role playing herself.

Kerry Diamond:             So were you on set? Could you watch Meryl Streep doing her thing?

Susan Spungen:            Oh, yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             Wow. What was that like?

Susan Spungen:            I mean, there are times actually when the actors are acting where they say that you're not allowed to be in their sight lines. That's what they say because they don't want ... Because it's very hard for the actor to do their job if everyone's looking at them. So you can watch but usually on a monitor, not always on the set, not directly.

Kerry Diamond:             That makes sense.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, of course it does, right? It's like they have to do their job and the crew should not be making it harder.

Kerry Diamond:             But you make real food, you don't do any of those like movie food trickery things that we alluded on.

Susan Spungen:            Well, no. Not really because most of the food was either being cooked or being eaten, so it was almost all real except for the souffle that Amy Adams pulls out of the oven, which it was real food, it just wasn't a souffle because that wouldn't have looked like anything.

Kerry Diamond:             Oh. That's funny I didn't even think about that.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, I mean just because of the timing, there's no way they would have been able to capture an actual souffle. So after some experimentation, we came up with an idea to do basically ... It was basically a giant cream puff, it was pâte à choux, so quite similar. Still another form of eggs and butter and flour, but baked so it's kind of hard and firm.

Kerry Diamond:             And then you did Eat Pray Love.

Susan Spungen:            Yes, Eat Pray Love with Ryan Murphy and that was-

Kerry Diamond:             Julia Roberts, my favorite.

Susan Spungen:            Julia Roberts. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             And you got to go to Italy.

Susan Spungen:            Right, I worked in Rome for three weeks and then in Naples at the end and that was, I mean really challenging but when you look back on it, fun.

Kerry Diamond:             Yeah, no one feels bad for you that you had to be stuck in Rome and Naples working on Eat Pray Love. And then you also did another great food film It's Complicated.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah. That one was with Nancy Meyers, of course, as the director, and Meryl Streep again. So it was my second time working with Meryl. And actually we had one really fun scene where all her friends were there and it was like Rita Wilson and Ali Wentworth and I forget who, but that was a fun day.

Kerry Diamond:             I remember that scene.

Susan Spungen:            Oh, Mary Kay Place actually.

Kerry Diamond:             We need a Susan Spungen Film Festival. That would be fun to do.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, let's do it.

Kerry Diamond:             Okay, we'll work on that.

Susan Spungen:            We could just show the pie scene from Labor Day. That was another movie I worked on.

Kerry Diamond:             You worked on Labor Day.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, yeah. But it wasn't as much a food movie. It was sort of a pie movie. So we had just one scene where there was pie.

Kerry Diamond:             Did you enjoy working on movies?

Susan Spungen:            Oh, yeah, I did.

Kerry Diamond:             Is that something you'd like to keep doing?

Susan Spungen:            Well, no. I mean, I'm glad I did it. And I'm actually working on a documentary about Julia Child in a few weeks, but it's just one week of work. So I don't think at this point in my life, I would want to be on set for three months, which is what I was for Julie & Julia and kind of It's Complicated too. I was there for most of the time for three months, except for days here and there. Glad I did it. I have absolutely no regrets. I love having those things kind of on my resume, but I don't think that I really would be maybe physically up to doing it right now.

Kerry Diamond:             It's a lot of work.

Susan Spungen:            It's a lot of work. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             I'm going to ask this quickly because we have to go into the speed round.

Susan Spungen:            Okay.

Kerry Diamond:             I always ask people how they make a living because it seems so mysterious, especially when you're a freelancer. You're laughing about how you make money. So obviously, you got a book contract, and the better it sells, the better you will do. But you did get an advance. How else do you make money?

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, well, first of all, I mean, books are usually not a very lucrative proposition. I mean, unless you're a really bestselling author, and then you're getting book contract after book contract, and then you're getting royalties as well. Most authors, they have enough to cover their expenses and not that much more, and it's paid out over two or three years. So nobody should ever think that they're going to make a lot of money on a book.

Kerry Diamond:             Or at least not fast.

Susan Spungen:            No, no, but it's a great thing to have. So, for the last few years, I mean, mostly it's a combination of doing recipe development, and food styling, but right now-

Kerry Diamond:             But for whom?

Susan Spungen:            Oh, with different clients. I mean, now I'm doing most of my recipe development is for the New York Times for New York Times Cooking, but over the years, it's been for a number of different publications, but so many magazines have folded so I've lost clients as the magazine business has changed where everything is in house if they exist at all. And they're all in Birmingham or you know ... So that work has kind of gone away. And styling has also kind of dried up. So I'm actually in kind of a transition period right now where I'm trying to figure out how I hope to sell another book, get started on another one and find a way to maybe do it a little cheaper than I did this one so it could be a slightly more profitable.

Kerry Diamond:             Our book was so expensive to do.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah, they're very expensive.

Kerry Diamond:             It's hard not to because you have to shoot so many.

Susan Spungen:            And you want it to be a quality product.

Kerry Diamond:             Absolutely. Well, I'd love to have you back to talk about the whole transition thing because I think a lot of people are going through that. Media is changing, the food world's changing.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             World's crazy right now as we know. I think a lot of people are just trying to figure out what's next in their career. So maybe we'll do like a panel or something.

Susan Spungen:            Yeah. Well, it is I think ... Because it really is about cobbling together your income. You have to be pretty brave, because you are not going to be guaranteed a paycheck and you always ... I don't know, things always just seem to come up for me, which is great. But right now yeah, I don't know. I actually don't know what's next exactly.

Kerry Diamond:             Well, here's to all the freelancers I know. I always think people are very brave when they go freelance. Hang on for the speed round. We'll be right back with Susan Spungen.

Kerry Diamond:             Hi Bombesquad. Let's go on a trip to Rioja, the premier wine making region in Spain that's home to more than 600 wineries. Rioja produces an incredible range of styles, reds, whites, rosés, and my favorite, sparkling wines. Tempranillo is Rioja's Hallmark grape. Indigenous to Spain, Tempranillo is elegant and versatile and can be found in every expression of Rioja. If you're out to dinner with your friends, look for Rioja on the wine list. Rioja's food-friendly wines pair beautifully with light bites, stand up to spice, and compliment richer dishes.

Kerry Diamond:             If you're entertaining at home, ask the folks at your favorite wine shop for their selections from Rioja. What do I love most about Rioja? The wines are released when they are ready to drink. Every bottle of wine from Rioja is marked with a color-coded seal indicating how long it has been aged according to Rioja's unique aging classification system. Cheers to that. For more visit And we're back with Susan Spungen. Okay speed round, ready?

Susan Spungen:            Okay, yeah.

Kerry Diamond:             Favorite kitchen utensil.

Susan Spungen:            Japanese mandoline.

Kerry Diamond:             Song that makes you smile.

Susan Spungen:            Lovely Day.

Kerry Diamond:             Dream vacation destination.

Susan Spungen:            Right now Tel Aviv.

Kerry Diamond:             A treasured cookbook.

Susan Spungen:            Treasured cookbook.

Kerry Diamond:             I know that's a tough one. Sorry.

Susan Spungen:            That's okay.

Kerry Diamond:             Just one you reach for a lot.

Susan Spungen:            Well, I don't really use them that much. But I'll tell you when I used to really love and would use now is called the Italian Baker by Carol Field. That's a classic everyone should have.

Kerry Diamond:             Oldest thing in your fridge.

Susan Spungen:            Miso.

Kerry Diamond:             If you were trapped on a desert island, you've had to answer this one before. If you were trapped on a desert island with one food celebrity, who would it be? And why?

Susan Spungen:            Oh my gosh. See now I think I'm going to repeat what I said. I think I said Jamie Oliver last time, because he's cute and he can cook. So I'm just going to stick with that. But I could come up with someone else.

Kerry Diamond:             Because he's cute and he can cook. Okay, great. We know what your priorities are now, Susan Spungen. That's it for today's show. Thank you to Susan Spungen for sitting down with me. Her new book is Open Kitchen: Inspired Recipes for Casual Gatherings and it's out right now. Be sure to get a copy at your favorite local bookstore and support Susan.

Kerry Diamond:             Thank you to the wines of Rioja and Smithfield Culinary for supporting our show. Hang in there everybody. You know having been through 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, which were two very tough times for New York City, I do know that things eventually return to normal. Sometimes it's a new normal, and we'll all need to figure out our place in that. Radio Cherry Bombe is edited and produced by Jess Zeidman. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala. Thanks for listening everybody. You are the bombe.

Susan Spungen:            I'll have what she's having.

Jodi Liano:                    Hi, my name is Jodi Liano and I'm the Founder of San Francisco Cooking School. Do you want to know who I think is the bombe? Nicole Plue, Director of Pastry and Baking at SFCS. Sure, she has some incredible achievements, including winning the James Beard Award for Best Pastry Chef in the country. But I think she's the bombe because of her commitment and dedication to cultivating the next generation of pastry cooks and bakers. Ask any student who's been through her program, she is undoubtedly the bombe.