Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Our French Chef: We Love You, Julia

This is a food blog, after all. There was just no way Julie & Julia was not going to appear on here in some way or another, right?

I saw the aforementioned movie recently and I have to say... I absolutely adored it! I laughed (a lot!), I cried. I thought it was divine.

Well, truth be told, I thought the parts with Julia Child/Meryl Streep were divine. I was absolutely captivated, entranced, and smitten with those parts of the movie. And much to my surprise, there were more of them than I had originally thought there would be. (The Julie Powell/Amy Adams parts of the movie were fine, in my opinion. Not bad, but very, very pale in comparison to the Julia Child scenes.)

I love that this movie made me think of and appreciate Julia Child in a whole new way. Before, I had known that yes, Julia Child revolutionized cooking in America. Yes, she demystified French cooking and made it accessible even to the humble housewife. Yes, she was a woman in what was very much a man's world.

But seeing it onscreen, seeing it told in a way that made my little heart strings sing -- and I fully admit, seeing it told by the luminous Meryl Streep didn't hurt either -- just made it come alive for me. Now, instead of just knowing these things, I feel them. I feel love, respect, admiration, and gratitude for Julia Child. I wonder if I would be here today, blogging about food, loving to cook, overcoming my fears and intimidation around cooking and foodie culture if it weren't for her.* I can't ever know for sure.

I have a special little place in my heart for the inimitable Ms. Child because she actually went to my high school! At the time, it was a small, private school for girls -- mostly a boarding school. But there were a few day schoolers, and she was one of them. I seem to recall having heard stories from my alma mater's lore that her being a day schooler made her a bit of an outsider. That, combined with her stature, must have been difficult in such a small community. Makes me love her even more!

So, being the kind of girl that I am, and being unafraid of being cliched when it's the truth, I have to tell you that as soon as I saw the movie, I turned to my husband and told him that I already know what two items are on my Hanukkah gift list: My Life in France and Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

There's a quote from Russell Morash, a WGBH producer who worked with Julia, which sums up her importance and her beloved status so perfectly. She was more than all these heroic titles and visions we've put on her. She did the simplest thing, and it changed our culture. I'll let him say it:

"[Before Julia,] if you asked at the A&P for leeks or a clove of garlic, they would have looked at you funny. Julia brought new food and new implements to America. An omelette used to be a French thing. An edible cheese? Ground pepper? Forget it! Chicken in America was fried. The Ritz in the late ’50s was serving codfish cakes. And the world was pointed to food made in factories and sold in cans. Julia said: start from scratch, and make something memorable."

Words to live by today, more than ever. Start from scratch, and make something memorable.

I am so going to make Julia's boeuf bourguignon this winter!

* I really enjoyed this 2004 piece by Christopher Lydon, written upon her death. My favorite passages:

The true measure of Julia Child is a great deal more than recipes and shtik. “Obviously,” Paglia had said, “she is one of those figures in history who totally transformed American culture. This country was a wasteland of Philistinism in terms of food and the preparation of food until Julia Child came on the scene. You know, her manner–her whole mannish manner! I mean, she’s a pioneering woman, with no connection to the Gloria Steinem school, the Patricia Ireland school, and all those, like, white upper-middle-class ladies. I mean, I absolutely adore the whole technology of food preparation, the ritualism of food coming out of Mediterranean culture. And nothing could be more opposite: food-affirming Julia Child versus the anorexia and bulimia-obsessd victimology of academic studies.”

The professional cook in the Lydon family, middle-daughter Amanda, picked up in her commentary where Paglia left off. “The key word Camille didn’t use,” Amanda said, “was pleasure. Julia Child did open up a new world for women. She broke the gender code in cooking. I mean, all the great cooks talk about their mothers and their mothers’ food. But there are differences. Home cooking is relaxed and female. Restaurant cooking is rule-bound, rigid and masculine. Julia put the Apollonian into the Dionysian, and the Dionysian into the Apollonian. Fine cuisine, so called, is a masculine tradition. What Julia Child did is deconstruct this French, classical, rule-based cooking tradition and make it accessible to women as a source of pleasure at home.”


  1. Thanks for the quotes! I think the strength, love, and support in Julia's relationships was the most moving thing in the film. I forgot that you'd told me she went to your alma mater--she always talked about growing up in Pasadena--and you share the Californian w/Yankee roots thing with her too! I think of her as a late-bloomer inspiration: she did all of these good, solid, worthwhile things and then in her forties she figured out how to combine that experience with the thing she was passionate about, and created a life and changed the culture.

  2. I know, it was so funny to me how they kept talking in the movie about how she grew up in Pasadena. That may have been true, but she definitely went to high school in Marin County!

    It is funny how she and I share the Californian with Yankee roots thing; I hadn't even thought of that! (Duh.)

    I know, I love that about her story too, that she didn't become the Julia Child we all know and love until so much later in life! Inspiring, on so many levels.

  3. That movie captivated me just as much as you. I have seen it 3 times and I would see it 3 more times. The part that really got me was when Julie and Julia both talked about food saving them. That speaks volumes to my heart. Just think about how healing chocolate chip cookies or mashed potatoes can be. Or the satisfaction of making a perfect meal. Food makes everything okay.

    I can't wait until that movie comes out on DVD!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin