Julie & Julia—the film based on Julie Powell's blog, the Julie/Julia Project—is opening on August 7, and the Julia Child frenzy is reaching its peak. I attended a preview of the highly entertaining film (Meryl Streep is Julia Child) a few weeks ago, and while wiping a few tears back on the way out (Nora Ephron really knows how to pull on the foodie heartstrings) I ran into Michael Pollan who told me he was working on a story about food television for this coming Sunday's New York Times Magazine ("Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch").
Pollan launches off with a nostalgic look back at Child. I think everyone has some nostalgia for her, even if she never directly entered their lives. Compared to the Food Network, which excels in the surreal, and Martha Stewart, who never breaks a sweat (as Pollan points out), Julia Child made her name for being the epitome of real (which included wiping her brow with paper towels).
Pollan writes: The show was taped live and broadcast uncut and unedited, so it had a vérité feel completely unlike anything you might see today on the Food Network, with its A.D.H.D. editing and hyperkinetic soundtracks of rock music and clashing knives. While Julia waited for the butter foam to subside in the sauté pan, you waited, too, precisely as long, listening to Julia’s improvised patter over the hiss of her pan, as she filled the desultory minutes with kitchen tips and lore. It all felt more like life than TV …
My memory of Julia comes from a luncheon years ago, celebrating the opening of the now defunct Copia (she was on the board). I was sitting on one side of Julia, and her niece, on the other, kept gently placing her hand on her to make sure Julia didn't nod off through the whole thing. Although she was quite elderly at the time, Julia did still have enough spunk and wherewithal to take a glance at the menu which highlighted a "flourless chocolate cake" for dessert and exclaim, "Flourless? Who cares if it's flourless!" (Can you just hear it?)
Julie Powell, the envy of all food bloggers right now, kicking themselves for not coming up with such a genius concept, wrote this about Julia on the day she passed away on August 13, 2004:
She was no bending reed, of course. She had no use for silly, fear-driven food fads; she could be set in her ways, even mulish, and when she wanted to she could be withering. That’s fine. That’s good even. We don’t need saints. Who changes their life under the influence of a saint? Okay—don’t answer that. But the point is—Julia was so impressive, so instructive, so exhilarating, because she was a woman, not a goddess. Julia didn’t create armies of drones, mindlessly equating her name with taste and muttering “It’s a Good Thing” under their minty breath. Instead she created feisty, buttery, adventurous cooks, always diving in to the next possible disaster, because goddammit, if Julia did it, so could we.
Feisty and buttery. Something food television could use more of. Something I hope all cooks aspire to be. I'm working on it.