When filming the TV adaptation of Stephanie Danler’s novel Sweetbitter, the creators of the restaurant drama wanted to make sure that their television kitchen and dining room could convincingly pass for the real deal. This level of authenticity was important to Danler, who’s on board as both a writer and producer of the new Starz series, especially considering that Sweetbitter is inspired by her experiences working at popular Manhattan restaurants like Union Square Cafe and Buvette in the mid 2000s. “I couldn’t show my face anywhere if I’d cheated,” she tells the Times.
For an extra layer of authenticity, the Sweetbitter crew tapped Justine Slattery, the hospitality industry vet who trained Danler when she worked at Union Square Cafe, to give the staff a crash course on how to act like real restaurant servers. The actors playing the kitchen crew spent two weeks at the Institute of Culinary Education learning the basics of food prep. And the Brooklyn studio where the show was filmed had two active kitchens, including one that was part of the set, as well as a food truck, to prepare all the food for the show. The Times notes that for one sequence that involved 100 actors playing dinner guests, the Sweetbitter team prepared three versions of each dish — full portions, “half-eaten” plates, and just the remainders of the meal — to use for shooting the scene.
“It was like waking up in my own dream,” Danler says about visiting the set. “Totally surreal.” And while this attention to detail will likely appeal to the industry crowd, the creators of the show are also aware of the fact that Sweetbitter needs to have a strong hook for audiences who maybe aren’t so familiar with the rhythms of restaurant life. Danler punched up her original version of the story so that it culminates in an “explosive moment” at the end of the six episodes. She hopes that this will be a “three-hour-prologue” for future seasons of the show, which Danler says is about that time when “you’re waiting for your life to start and it has already started.”
The first episode of Sweetbitter will premiere on Starz next Sunday, May 6.
• ‘Sweetbitter’ Is a Coming-of-Age Story, With Wine Pairings [NYT]
• Watch the Steamy First Trailer for Restaurant TV Drama ‘Sweetbitter’ [E]