If you haven’t seen the film Julie and Julia yet you must.By now you probably know that it is based on two books, My Life in France (which I have read) by Julia Child and her nephew, and Julie/Julia (which I have not), by Julie Powell that grew out of a blog by Powell in 2002, in which she attempted to cook every recipe in Child’s iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year.Both books are getting a bump from the movie and are on the NYTimes best seller list.
The film interweaves the two stories, and although some critics have a point that the Childs’ sections overshadow the Powell sections, the result is engaging and lots of fun.The incomparable Meryll Streep once again demonstrates her powers as a conjurer by becoming Julia Child, the lilting voice, the stoop ofa too-tall woman, the goofy charm, it’s all there and it is something to behold.Stanley Tucci is wonderful as her husband Paul, and the chemistry between these two is terrific to watch.Would that any of us could have that much fun together
Of course, the real star of this movie is the food, as you see Julia and Paul eat their way through France, and Julie (played capably by charming Amy Adams), cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in her upstairs apartment over a pizza parlor. The movie gets a little overly mystical for my tastes about Julie’s imagined bond with Julia, but after a year of cooking her recipes Julie is entitled to be a little off balanced.
So this one goes on my list of other favorite foodie movies with Eat, Drink, Man, Woman; Like Water for Chocolate; Babette’s Feast; and Tampopo. Foodie friends tell me I must see Big Night and it’s on my list.
Yesterday I pulled my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the cookbook bookcase and noticed it is a first edition. It was given to me by my late Aunt Tia (Grace Louise Forster, aka Brownie Boghosian). It is a Book Club edition, so I am pretty sure she got it from The Book of the Month Club.I have both volumes with their dust jackets and they are in pretty good shape, since Tia didn’t cook very much and was pretty neat when she did (like my mom she was a librarian.) I, on the other hand, who also take good care of my books but give cookbooks a big exemption, have left pinot noir stains on both the Boeuf Bourguignon and the Coq au Vin (photo below) pages.
In addition to these two provincial classics, I have made Julia’s Cassoulet, and all three of these dishes are delicious, labor intensive, time consuming, and laden with butter. The Cassoulet takes several days to digest,
Julia’s later book, The Way to Cook, has simplified recipes, but loses some of the joi de vivre (along with the butter) of the original.I have made her “Zinfandel of Beef,” an updated and simplified Boeuf Bourguignon, and it is delicious, but not nearly as sumptious as the original, in which you braise onions and mushrooms separately and add them to the final dish at the end.
In today’s NYTimes Book Review Mastering the Art of French Cooking is now number one on the Hardcover Advice and How-To List, which means it will be taking up space on many a kitchen bookshelf for years to come.For those who actually open it and try to cook from it be warned. It is a great cookbook and deserves its reputation, but Julia was not fooling around.
The movie makes Julie’s attempt to cook all the recipes seem pretty grueling, but I suspect the reality was even more daunting.These recipes take time, thought, care, attention, good ingredients and love.There are no shortcuts.They yield wonderful results.
And in many ways Mastering is an artifact from another age.It is not only French cooking made accessible for Americans, it is French cooking from 1960. A lot has changed since then, and even the French don’t cook this way much anymore.
But it is still wonderful, so hats off to Julia for being Julia, and also to Julie for sparking a new interest for another generation in this great cuisine and the oversized personality that brought it to America.
(all photos: R.L. Floyd)