Food stylist adds to show's flavor

October 5, 2005

BY SANDY THORN CLARK

When it comes to "Kitchen Confidential," the food is the real deal, so delectable that the stars, extras and crew want to devour the professionally prepared cuisine before resident food stylist Nancy Goodman Iland says it's no longer safe for consumption.

Though the prime-time escapades (7:30 to 8 p.m. Mondays on Fox) chronicle the secrets of the restaurant business through the story of chef Jack Bourdain (Bradley Cooper), Iland is neither compelled nor inclined to remain quiet about what goes on in the behind-the-scenes kitchen where the culinary creations are the stars.

"This is a dream job!" proclaims Iland, working her normal 5:30 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. hours on the set of the sitcom based on renowned chef Anthony Bourdain's best-selling autobiography. While four on her crew do the prepping and cooking in the "real" kitchen, Iland -- who owns her own company called FoodArt -- is on the "set" kitchen or she's teaching cast members how to handle fresh veal, chop shrimp, serve sea bass with leeks, prepare an exquisite creme brulee or purposely ruin a Belgian chocolate souffle as cameras roll.

In a phone call from the show's Los Angeles set, Iland, a food stylist for 14 years who declines to divulge her age ("A woman doesn't give her age"), nearly whispers so she's not heard on camera. She admits that much of the food footage winds up on the cutting room floor -- that's costly particularly when each shooting requires five to 10 plates of identical dishes.

Most food is refrigerated, and extras usually eat pre-prepared food that is cold or at room temperature. "The main actors get the hot food, like lamb chops," explains Iland, who worked in restaurants, owned her own catering company and worked as a food stylist on "Murder, She Wrote" for four seasons before joining "Confidential."

She's excited that even this early in the show's initial season, the food has been stepped up a notch. "We've upped artiness; our food is now high-end; it's towering, it's textured. We want fabulous-looking dishes." She loves creating recipes for the show and enjoyed appearing as an extra in a recent episode. "I had a good hair day, and they used me," she quips.

After a brief interruption to answer a crew member's query about the whereabouts of shaved cheese, Iland insists that most of the show's food is real -- yes, those are tasty filet mignons, New York steaks, and ribs (though she had to have the ribs cut longer to accommodate a director's request). Exceptions are ice cream and sorbet because both will melt before scenes can be shot; mashed potatoes are substituted for ice cream and a mixture of lard and powdered sugar becomes "glistening" sorbet.

When the script called for a chef's cut-off finger to inadvertently be served to a restaurant critic, Iland used saffron rice. "It concealed the 'finger' perfectly," she recalls with a chuckle.

The California native ("I'm a true Valley Girl!") polices what is eaten and when it's eaten on the set. "I don't recycle food -- I have to make certain there are no risky foods that people eat. After a scene, I'll say, 'Eat this, not that" because I don't want anyone sick from food that has been out of a refrigerator too long."

Energy is high on the "Kitchen Confidential" set, and the cast and crew are like family. Iland's especially fond of Bradley Cooper, who plays the head chef who is trying to get back into the New York restaurant scene after his excesses landed him in the gutter. "Yes, Bradley is that handsome, and he's so sweet -- none of that 'I'm a star' attitude. He used to work in a restaurant so he's perfectly cast."

Iland says the network is committed to the first 12 shows (filming ends Oct. 31). "Then we find out in November if we are picked up for nine more shows. Viewer numbers are coming in high, but the hard part for us is we follow 'Arrested Development,' which is critically acclaimed but doesn't have viewers."

Though she's usually too tired to cook when she returns to her beachside home from work, Iland enjoys kitchen time with her 7-year-old son, Jared. "We like to fix steak, broccoli or carrots because he's a good vegetable eater, and dessert."

So you're living your dream, right? "I've never stopped to think about it, but, yes, I'm living my dream," admits the food stylist who shares kitchen confidences but not her age.

Sandy Thorn Clark is a Chicago-based free-lance writer.