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Her love affair with food yields fare to remember

January 01, 2006|Susan King

Valerie Aikman-Smith

Food stylist

Current assignment: Whipping up all the holiday food seen on screen in "The Family Stone."

Other credits: "Titanic," "Vanilla Sky," "The Wild Wild West," "XXX: State of the Union"; television series, magazine and newspaper food-related shoots.

Ingredients: "A food stylist prepares food to make it camera-ready. They design food, they make the food and they style it for the set, whether it is motion picture, editorial, print advertising, TV. Whenever you see food in a magazine or on television, a food stylist has prepared that."

The vision: "The prop masters or the production designer hires me on movies. On a large film, I don't have the luxury of being able to sit down with the director, so I meet with the production designer or designers. Production designers say what they want, and then I come up with designing the food."

Taking requests: "['Family Stone'] director Tom Bezucha had specific family things [he wanted in the movie]. His family has a strata dish you see Sarah Jessica Parker dump on the floor. He wanted Yorkshire puddings in the big dinner scene.

That is a very British thing, but his family always has Yorkshire pudding. So those were two things he really wanted to see, and those were specifics. The rest of it was to let me fly. I worked with the prop department and then Tom would come and I would have everything laid out for him to OK. He'd say, 'I like this,'

Maybe not that this time.' He was very hands-on."

"Stone" Christmas menu: "It was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. I can't remember one vegetable that was on that table because I go from job to job. But it was roasted vegetables. It was a very traditional Christmas Eve dinner."

Sous-chefs: "It depends on the size and the budget, but I had two assistants on 'Family Stone.' You come in and out [of the production] because not every scene is a cooking scene. My kitchen stayed there [on set] the whole time. Obviously the schedules changed, but you could be there three days in a row and then maybe not back for another week."

The "Titanic" voyage: "We were down in Rosarito Beach [Mexico], and it was a marathon. I did a lot of research for the recipes and the menus of the time because it was Edwardian England so it couldn't be too flashy. Obviously, I went by the actual menus from the boat. I had to take the food in from the States. We had a 10-ton truck fitted out as a kitchen, and then we had a huge extension of a tent hooked up to the back with refrigerators and tables and I had three assistants on that. I was there for three weeks."

Location, location, location: "I have been all over Europe. My favorite place to cook is Paris. I do a lot of stuff with Bon Appetit magazine, so I did an international shoot with them in Paris. We were there for 17 days."

Exotic foods: "Remember the [low-cut] dress that Jennifer Lopez wore to the [Grammys] when she was dating P. Diddy? I did that dress in Jell-O for a photo shoot for a magazine. A model was lying on the floor. We did sheets of green Jell-O and I worked with the costume designer and put exotic leaves on her body and then laid the sheet [on her] and cut around it to make it look like a dress. Those things I really love because they are so silly they were fun."

Beginnings: "I used to work in Greens in San Francisco as a chef.... I didn't want my own restaurant. I just wanted to do food styling.

"I assisted around town [as a food stylist] and then I took the leap myself. My leap was the 'Titanic.' My husband is a film editor -- Paul Martin Smith ["Behind Enemy Lines"] -- so being freelance and being a food stylist fits my lifestyle because when he goes on location, I really try to go with him."

Surprises: "I have turned up at a place to do an entertainment story and there has been no stove there!"

Home-cooked meals: "I am constantly cooking. Actually, sometimes if I am really tired and I come home from a shoot, I cook to relax, just to Zen out."

Union or guild: None

Resides in: Hollywood

Age: "I leave it up to people to guess."

Salary: "You can make a living at it especially if you just do commercials, but I do everything. I haven't put myself in one pocket."

-- Susan King

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