What started as simple celebrity drama involving Hollywood director Olivia Wilde and pop star Harry Styles has traveled from a film set in California, made it to the shores of Venice, dominated months of headlines on social media, and now somehow involves an iconic Nora Ephron novel. On Monday, a former nanny of Wilde and her ex-partner Jason Sudeikis said Wilde had a “special” vinaigrette she made for the family, and enraged Sudeikis when she allegedly made it for Styles. Among an article detailing a relationship embroiled with accusations of cheating, curses, and a body thrown under a car, the multiple mentions of the salad dressing had the internet asking — what vinaigrette is good enough to save (or break) a marriage?
While it’s easy to pinpoint how we got here, the why is a much harder question. During filming on Wilde’s second directorial offering, she began seeing Styles — beginning a year of speculation on when and why her relationship with Sudeikis ended. According to a long list of claims from Wilde and Sudeikis’ former employee — all of which the former couple have denied, calling the claims the apex of an 18-month-long harassment campaign — Wilde making her special vinaigrette for Styles was allegedly one of the last straws in her failing relationship with Sudeikis. “’Jason told me: ‘She made this salad and she made her special dressing and she’s leaving with her salad to have dinner with [Harry],” the former nanny told the Daily Mail. “’Out of everything, he was like, ‘she made her special salad dressing and took it to him.” The odd interlude of the salad dressing became the most viral part of the explosive interview, with multiple outlets desperate to know the contents of Wilde’s vinaigrette. But in Wilde fashion, the director responded directly to the noise on Tuesday night, posting on her Instagram story a dressing recipe from Nora Ephron’s semi-autobiographical novel Heartburn.
It’s a simple vinaigrette: equal parts Grey Poupon mustard and red wine vinegar, mixed carefully with olive oil until the dressing reaches a creamy consistency. According to Ephron’s character, the simple flavors work perfectly for “salad greens like arugula and watercress and endive.” But what’s bigger is what the dressing represents in Heartburn — and what Wilde might be trying to say through it.
In Heartburn, the vinaigrette is brought up four times, but is weaved through the story as an essential and personal family recipe. Rachel Samsat, a cookbook author, has the perfect husband, perfect child, perfect pregnancy, and apparently perfect recipe for a strong vinaigrette. She assumes, like in the kitchen, her life is going to go swimmingly — a presumption that is dashed to bits when she discovers her husband Mark Feldman is having an affair with a woman named Thelma. In the novel, she describes the vinaigrette in stages, each time indicative of the state of her relationship. First, it is something Feldman does not want to risk losing. Then something he might be willing to give up. Next, Samsat refuses to share the recipe with her husband, vividly imagining the last thing that separates her from his mistress slipping from her grasp.
“I made my vinaigrette, but I wouldn’t tell him,” the novel reads. “I figured my vinaigrette was the only thing I had that Thelma didn’t (besides a pregnancy), and I could just see him learning it from me and then rushing over to her house with a jar of Grey Poupon mustard (the essential ingredient) and teaching her the wrist movement and dancing off into a sunset of arugula salads. I must seem to be putting too much emphasis on this vinaigrette of mine, but war is war.” (Emphasis ours.)
Sound familiar? While Samsat’s inciting incident in Heartburn is marital infidelity, the larger narrative of the work comes to a conclusion absent of blame. Throughout their marriage, Samsat and Feldman have fundamentally changed as people. By the end, they just don’t work. The novel ends with Samsat moving back to her home in New York. But on her last night in Washington D.C, she makes dinner with her family — and teaches Mark how to make the vinaigrette.
There are two options here. One, Wilde, who has been vocal about using feminist inconography as source material for her work, genuinely read and made the Ephron salad dressing for her family. As vinaigrette goes, its doesn’t get much easier and, to be honest,sounds like a fine addition to any greens, leafy or otherwise. The other, and far more likely, is that Wilde is poking fun at the intense speculation into her personal life, and trying to share larger comments on the emotions and experiences of going through a breakup. This probably won’t be the last time people are focused on Wilde and Sudeikis’ relationship. The former couple share two children together, and have asserted multiple times that even though their romantic relationship is over, they’re committed to doing what’s best for their kids. But if the past week has proven anything, it’s that people still care enough about drama (alleged or otherwise) to make any comments about Wilde front page news. But even while the internet continues to laugh about her, Wilde’s response, and easy vinaigrette recipe, seem to imply she’s in on the joke.