Styled just so: food for a flick

Caterer's role is to make it look good

September 08, 2004|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Sascha Wolhandler worked until 2 a.m. recently making desserts look good for a movie shoot on a $30 million yacht docked off Canton, and she never even got to see George Clooney, the leading man and presumably chief eater.

"The only star was Christopher Plummer, which at my age is pretty exciting," Wolhandler says, although she refuses to reveal that age. "However, I don't think the 20- and 30-year-olds were as impressed."

Plummer, a plummy-voiced Canadian who has been making movies since 1958, is perhaps best known for his role as Baron von Trapp in The Sound of Music.

"He looks very fit, very handsome and very dapper and quite charming. So none of that has faded with time. It has only increased," Wolhandler says.

Wolhandler, a fixture on the downtown food scene since she opened a creperie in Mount Vernon in the 1970s, owns Sascha's 527 cafe on North Charles Street and Sascha's Catering around the corner on Hamilton Street. She's done food styling on 14 or 15 movies over the past decade and a half after Pat Moran, an old pal and John Waters' casting director, recommended her for a movie she's long since forgotten.

For her latest movie venture, a Mideast spy thriller called Syriana, which is being filmed around Baltimore, she had her chef, Catherine Bind, prepare seared duck's breast with balsamic and raspberry sauce, shiitake mushrooms and acorn squash puree for a scene aboard the yacht.

"It had a kitchen everybody was drooling over," Wolhandler says, "and an extraordinarily beautiful back deck where this very elegant dinner party was being staged. It was very glamorous. Very."

She worked about seven hours aboard the yacht styling the food.

"All the food I'd prepared for dinner was changed when I got there to be a dessert," she says. "One thing you must learn when working on the movies is to retain total flexibility mode. It can change at the drop of a hat and at the whim of a very capricious director.

"So even though I had brought appetizer and dinner plates that were supposed to be nouvelle cuisine and quite elegant and beautiful, I was told at 8 o'clock they wanted dessert plates. So at that point you just switch gears and make do."

Which means that the figs and mascarpone cheese wrapped in prosciutto were quickly whisked away and unwrapped.

"So," she says, "we had figs and mascarpone and raspberries that were supposed to dot the duck. So that all transformed into dessert. It looked very elegant, very nouvelle and very beautiful. And I might say mascarpone on fig with a touch of reduced balsamic is delicious. Everyone was tasting."

Over the years, Wolhandler has cooked eggs for Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride, turkey legs for Tuck Everlasting, and created an elaborate 19th-century child's birthday party with gumdrop topiary trees for Washington Square.

"It's fun," she says. "You kind of do what the scene calls for. It requires some research. You listen to the director and the production designer and your props people and set dresser, and go from there."

And you might have to redo the food the exact same way over and over as the director reshoots the scene.

"So if someone bites the prime rib," she says, "you have to re-create the prime rib again where their bite was."

Wolhandler has had her shot at stardom, too, in Her Alibi, an unmemorable Tom Selleck film. She was supposed to say, "Would you like a glass of champagne?"

She missed her cue and spoke too soon. Selleck said, "Young lady I'm trying to say my lines." She said, "Look, buddy, I've got lines, too."

"Quickly," she says, "my career was over."

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