She stood over six feet tall. The voice-unmistakable; that distinctive combo of a flowery, nasal lilt tinged with a little Yankee and hints of her Pasadena roots in Southern California thrown in for good measure. The title of her groundbreaking TV show, The French Chef, was ironic. She always considered herself a cook and, most of all, a teacher. Never a chef. She came to fame late-her defining work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, did not hit bookstores until she was 49. The rest, as we know, is history: the history of Julia Child as we knew her, and the history of the revolution in home cooking that she pioneered.
Everything you need to know about kitchen tools and ingredients to get cooking like a pro at home.
This month, part of that history will be on full view in the feature film Julie & Julia. It opens nationwide on Friday, with Meryl Streep taking on the daunting task of bringing an icon back to life and then some. I've already seen the movie (this job does have its perks), and I can tell you that Streep does so-with a gusto that would have delighted Julia herself. The "Julia" part of the movie is based on My Life in France, written by Julia with her husband's grandnephew Alex Prud'homme. Here also is the parallel story of Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams), the blogger who decided to make all of the 500-plus recipes in Mastering in her small New York kitchen over the course of a year. Screenwriter and director Nora Ephron-a noted foodie in her own right, I might add-has woven them together and fashioned a light, frothy romantic comedy that's the perfect antidote to summer's inevitable earsplitting, exploding blockbusters. To put it into terms I think that Julia would have appreciated: Julie & Julia is a luscious fresh peach mousse after a menu of gravy-laden main courses.
Read more: Amy Adams on cooking for the movie and why simplicity is the best ingredient of all.
In the many times Julia and I saw each other-mostly in Santa Barbara, where she lived part- and full-time for years-we ate together, we drank together, and we talked together, certainly. But it always struck me that Julia never seemed to have the full sense of how people cherished and responded to her. People from all walks of life came up to her: A hard-hatted construction worker in Montecito made an indelible impression, and there were also housewives in Orange County, the chefs and other food professionals from everywhere, movie stars, and culinary students. The young people were her favorites, and there were plenty of them. She was as much in awe of them as they were of her. In most cases I suspect she helped inspire their careers through her books, her TV shows, and, really, just her presence.
Celebrate Julia's birthday this month by cooking this party-perfect menu from her classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
It's been a long time since those endearing black-and-white French Chef shows first aired. By today's glitzy standards, they truly have a retro charm. "We didn't have a real kitchen back then, despite what you saw," she once told me. "So Paul [her husband] washed the dishes in the men's room." You won't see Stanley Tucci (excellent as Paul Child) doing that in the film. But you will see, be reminded, or perhaps even learn for the first time, how Julia Child's curiosity, passion, and determination forged a life for her that influenced baby boomers like me, the Irma S. Rombauer generation before, and, yes, even the Mario/Alton/Giada generation after, which also counts Julie Powell among its ranks. Julia was approachable, her recipes were meticulous, yet do-able ("I see every recipe as a little short story" is a famous quote), and the results tasted great. I cooked a lot from that book just for fun as an editorial assistant, and I was always impressed with myself when all was said, done, and devoured. Julia gave me confidence.
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Trust me, Julia Child still matters. And to anyone who cares about food, cooking, and history-she always will.
Besides Mastering the Art of French Cooking, some agree that this might be the only cookbook you'll ever need.
By Barbara Fairchild, Editor-in-Chief
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