Bruce's Blog

a handful of dimes and a jukebox

Like a lot of people, I went to see Julie & Julia last weekend.  Of course Meryl Streep was incredible (why’d she ever change her name from Mary anyway?) and overall the movie was a lot of fun.  I was curious to find out exactly what Julia Child had said about Julie and her project.  In the movie, it was reported that Julia said she “wasn’t serious” or something.

Publisher’s Weekly spoke to Judith Jones, Senior Editor and Vice President at Alfred A. Knopf, and Julia Child’s editor and confidante, who shared her recollection of Child’s feelings on Julie Powell’s blog:

Jones says Child did not approve of Powell’s cook-every-recipe-in-one-year project. The editor and author read Powell’s blog together (Julie and Julia was published a year after Child’s 2004 death). “Julia said, ‘I don’t think she’s a serious cook.’ ” Jones thinks there was a generational difference between Powell and Child. “Flinging around four-letter words when cooking isn’t attractive, to me or Julia. She didn’t want to endorse it. What came through on the blog was somebody who was doing it almost for the sake of a stunt. She would never really describe the end results, how delicious it was, and what she learned. Julia didn’t like what she called ‘the flimsies.’ She didn’t suffer fools, if you know what I mean.”

So I decided to read some of the original blog myself.  Julie is more, well more of everything than her character in the movie:  more intense, more prone to meltdowns, more blogishly narcissistic, more crazy-making to her husband Eric.  But why did Julia think it was a stunt, and that Julie wasn’t a serious cook.  She obviously took this project very seriously.

So I started thinking about it.  It took Julia Child the better part of a decade to write, test and re-test recipes until she know that if you followed her instructions precisely, you could, with enough experience, master the art of French cooking.  Obviously, everything that Julia Child cooked the first time did not turn out perfectly.  She had to learn herself; cooking, re-cooking, experimenting until she was satisfied with the results.

In her blog, Julie describes many failures.   Were these failures because the recipes were flawed?  Or did she not follow the instructions?  She often writes that she didn’t follow the instructions because she didn’t understand the technique involved,  have the proper kitchen tool, or  some ingredient was too expensive or difficult to obtain.  So because of one reason or another, some recipes didn’t work.

If one is a serious cook, wouldn’t it be appropriate to, at the very least, try it again?  As the old saying goes, you can learn more from your failures than from your successes — but only if you think about the failure, determine what went wrong, and keep trying until you succeed.  Then you’ve learned a lot, perhaps the most important lesson, that you don’t know what you can do and what you can’t do until you’ve tried.

So by virtue of giving herself the artificial deadline of a year, she put herself in the position of not being a “serious cook”, as Julia said.  If the goal had been to perfect every single recipe in “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” — regardless of how long it took — then, perhaps, Julia might have been able to respect her.

Categories: Cooking, Movies

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