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‘Sweetbitter’ writer Stephanie Danler on bringing the book to the small screen

The show built a restaurant set at Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Ella Purnell stars as Tess in

Ella Purnell stars as Tess in "Sweetbitter" on Starz. Photo Credit: Starz

When she quit her job at Buvette right after her 31st birthday, Stephanie Danler had spent more than half her life working in restaurants.

Her time spent managing and training staff, as well as learning about wine through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, inspired her debut novel, “Sweetbitter.” The coming-of-age tale follows Tess, a 22-year-old Ohioan hungry for experience. Upon moving to Brooklyn in 2006, she lands a back-waiter gig at a prestigious Manhattan restaurant.

Published in 2016, it didn’t take long for the bestselling book to be optioned for a TV series. That show premieres May 6 at 8 p.m. on Starz.

Danler, who is an executive producer and writer on the TV series “Sweetbitter,” now calls Los Angeles home. But she’s in New York most of the year, especially as she heads back into the writers’ room this month to start on season 2.

amNewYork spoke with Danler, 34, about bringing a story set in NYC’s restaurant industry to life.

Writing in NYC was key.

There was never a question that the show would film in New York City, Danler said. And the same was true for the writers’ room.

“A lot of shows write in Los Angeles and come to New York and do their exteriors as needed,” she said. “I felt, and I still feel this way, that there’s a special authenticity that comes from having writers living in the city they’re writing about. I don’t know that I would trust a bunch of Los Angeles-based writers, even if they knew New York, to do it justice. When you walked out of set and could see the whole skyline, I think it adds some authenticity.”

The restaurant was a set in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

That skyline was viewed from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The writers’ offices were located in the industrial park, and much of the show was filmed there too, at a custom-built restaurant set inside Steiner Studios.

The kitchens at the studio churned out restaurant-quality meals for filming, though Danler found the surrounding area to be lacking when in the writers’ room.

“The food that you can get delivered to the Navy Yard is not especially inspiring,” she said. “However, they are opening a Russ & Daughters over there, so things could change by season 2.”

The food was better in Williamsburg.

Danler would often go to Marlow & Sons, sometimes twice a day, when they filmed in Williamsburg. Outside the neighborhood, her regular rotation includes Via Carota, Grand Central Oyster Bar and Buvette.

The cast was trained by restaurant pros.

The show hired restaurant consultants to train the main cast and extras in details as small as how to properly place a plate on a table.

Danler brought on front-of-house consultant Justine Slattery and back-of-house chef Nate Courtland, both of whom she worked with while at Union Square Cafe in 2006.

“Between the three of us we drove everyone crazy,” said Danler. “They were on set every time we were shooting in either the dining room or the kitchen.”

Even if no one notices, it was crucial for Danler to have that authenticity extend to the restaurant scenes.

“I worked in the restaurant industry too long to cut corners now that I’m representing it on TV,” she said.

The concerns of the #MeToo movement were already in the source material.

Season 1 was being written right as the #MeToo movement struck the restaurant industry, most prominently with sexual misconduct allegations against Mario Batali.

“It was happening when we were in the room, but it didn’t change anything,” Danler said. “I think that already with the book, you have the full gamut of sexual politics in a workplace, and you have proof of why this movement needed to happen. Everything from consensual flirtation to micro aggression and harassment to full abuse of power happens in the book. We wanted to be faithful to that in the show because it’s accurate of the reality in restaurants.”

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