Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter, says the TV show has one, simple message.

There’s been nothing ‘sweetbitter’ about Stephanie Danler’s meteoric career.

After penning a best-selling debut novel, Sweetbitter, the book has now been turned in a stunning TV series of the same name – and Stephanie has been a part of the journey every step of the way.

The book follows Tess, a young woman who ups and leaves her small town in the middle of the night, headed for New York City, where she finds herself working at an upscale restaurant.

There are a lot of similarities between Tess and the author.

At 22, Stephanie also packed up and moved to New York City, where she too found herself working in an upscale restaurant.

But there are a lot more differences.

“It’s not at all my life. I had a very different experience – especially a very different experience being 22 – but it is authentic to a life that I know very well. Everything in it feels very true to me, but not everything happened to me,” she tells Mamamia.

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Stephanie, 35, says the main inspiration for her story came from what she saw in the restaurant industry versus what people actually thought went on.


“I’d been working in restaurants from age 15 until 32. I never had another job, never once step foot in an office, and I didn’t see my vision of restaurants reflected in the media,” she says.

“I was seeing the same angry chefs, the kitchen banter – it was all very testosterone driven. My experience of restaurants was a lot more sensual and slow, and about details and paying attention – learning to taste.”

She also loved the idea of telling Tess’ personal story.

“I’ve always been interested in coming-of-age stories… I wonder about how we become women from girls,” she adds.

Ultimately, Stephanie says she really just wanted to tell an “honest” story about a young woman who is still figuring things out.

“I think there is an entire generation of women coming of age, who want to see themselves as the hero in the story and not as the butt of a joke, and not just as a superficial millennial or as an aspirational ditzy girl,” she says.

“They want to see characters with integrity, but who are also flawed. I have to think that has something to do with what people are responding to.”

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Despite its huge success though, Stephanie says she steers clear of the reviews.

“But I think it’s been pretty much what we expected,” she adds.

“We knew that male critics in middle age might have a hard time relating to the story, and we knew that young women were going to feel like it was about them. But it’s been beautifully received by the people that I wanted to make it for.”

Stephanie says she was really just giving women a narrative that had been missing up until recently.

“I’ve had a very blessed career with this project, and I think it has less to do with me and more to do with the world being hungry for female-driven content,” she says.

“People love New York stories, people love workplace dramas, but there’s something else going on with the response to this book that has nothing to do with that, and it’s about young women being hungry to be the hero.”

Although Stephanie says she was “interested” when she found out they wanted to turn her book into a TV series, she honestly wasn’t expecting much.

“I thought that I would just take the money and go back to writing books,” she laughs.

“Then I had a team of women who really believed that I could transition into being a screenwriter based on the dialogue in the book. I thought, ‘Well, if someone will teach me how to write a script for free, I’d be a fool to turn it down.’ It all sort of snowballed from there. I think of it as getting a PhD in television making.”

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Now she finds herself doing, well… pretty much everything.

“I’m also executive producer – I do everything. I’m on set 15 hours a day, I write afterwards, I do casting, I go location scouting, I meet with the directors to prep them on the script, I talk to the actors, the background extras. But I wanted it,” she says.

And as busy as she may be, she says being so hugely involved with the project helps her ensure the story is being told in the way she intended it.

Sweetbitter has always had a risk of being sensationalised. It’s always been at risk of being reduced to sex and drugs or a restaurant expose, and that’s really not what it’s about,” she says.

“It’s about a girl trying to become a woman, and so, when I got involved, one of my goals was to make sure that the focus stayed on her journey and didn’t just become really loud with the more provocative stuff.”

As for bringing the character of Tess to life on the small screen, Stephanie says she owes it all to Ella Purnell – the 21-year-old British actress who portrays her.

“We are very, very close. I feel a little indebted to her,” she says.

“She created this character and carried the show. She is in every single scene. She has a wisdom and a maturity so far beyond her age, that I never, never had. I’m incredibly protective of her. I learn so much from her every single day.”

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The pair have grown so close in fact, Stephanie says she doesn’t think she could have worked alongside anybody else.

“I’ve never articulated it, but I don’t know that I would have been able to work on the show if I wasn’t connected to the actress playing Tess,” she admits.

“I’ve never thought about it this way, but having this relationship with her has been so important to me.”

Interestingly though, Stephanie says she never imagined Tess to be anything like Ella when she was writing the novel, but it all worked out beautifully.

“She carries on her face so much more experience and energy and rebelliousness that Tess in the book doesn’t have,” she says.

“But she was also the only girl that I saw that I believed would get up in the middle of the night and leave her house and survive.

“She reminded me of one of the orphans in a Dickens novel, where you know that they’ll get by, you know that they’ve got enough common sense and charm. I couldn’t stop watching her.”

Although Stephanie says she never actually expected to be where she is now, it is something she used to dream about.

“I moved to New York to be a writer. I worked in restaurants because I was a writer. I wrote a novel in under grad, and when I moved to New York at 22, I was like, ‘I’m going to sell my novel! I’m going to be an author,’ which did not happen,” she admits.

“I think I knew that I could become a published writer if I worked hard enough. But no, never. In a million years [did I expect this].”

Sweetbitter is available to stream now on Stan: