Wednesday marks what would've been the 100th birthday of the late, great Julia Child. For folks whose work revolves around food in this country, there is no more important figure to us than the gourmand, chef, author, and television personality.
So, it's fitting that her life and legacy is being celebrated by the various cable networks that owe her a debt of gratitude as well as public television, whom Julia, who died in 2004 two days before turning 92, introduced to the possibilities of food-based broadcasting.
This week, we'll celebrate Julia with a dinner-and-a-movie recommendation today followed by a proper package of recipes and stories on Wednesday.
This Wednesday, if you want to properly celebrate Julia, do it in courses as Julia would have.
Watching Dan Aykroyd's famous portrayal of Julia from the golden era of “Saturday Night Live” is the perfect amuse bouche.
You can find that video and enough others to fill a 15-course meal online at pbs.org/food, including interviews and a sampling of full episodes of her various programs. The site also has a collection of Julia Child quotes, a Julia Child personality quiz, recipes and more. That site also encourages home cooks to create a classic Julia Child dish and share their experience at the site and on Twitter, using the hashtag #CookforJulia.
Home bakers, meanwhile, can still enter the Julia Child Birthday Cake Contest sponsored by the recipe website Epicurious. Enter your original recipe, including a photo, for a chance to win a KitchenAid stand mixer, an All-Clad French skillet set or a 60th Anniversary Limited Edition nonstick Bundt pan from Nordic Ware. Details are at facebook.com/epicurious. The deadline is 11 a.m. Aug. 21.
For your library, there's the new biography, “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child,” by Bob Spitz (Knopf, $29.95). Expanding greatly on the popular “My Life in France” (2006), cowritten by Child and her grandnephew Alex Prud'homme, this new book covers Child's full life, from gawky schoolgirl to rebellious collegian, government service worker abroad, culinary student, writer and finally TV star and French cooking authority.
Introduce the kids to Julia with “Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat” (Abrams, $16.95). Written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Amy Bates, the book covers Child's Le Cordon Bleu days in Paris, from the point of view of Child's first cat.
The book also includes a photo of Child with the real Minette, a short biography and a glossary and pronunciation guide of French words used in the story.
For the movie end of your celebration of Julia, the only real choice is Nora Ephron's “Julie and Julia,” which intermingles Julia's conversion from bored housewife/civil servant to French chef and author with Julie Powell's conversion from bored civil servant to renowned blogger via creating each recipe from Julia's first book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
Powell performed the feat inside a year and lived to blog about it in 2002. The Julie/Julia Experiment graduated from blogspot to book form.
Meryl Streep's carefree, almost bawdy, portrayal of Julia Child is so charismatic, you'll be left wanting much more of her and less of Julie Powell. That doesn't mean Powell's story isn't compelling, it's just difficult for her — or anyone else — to stand up to Julia, especially in an Oscar-nominated turn by history's most celebrated actress.
Amy Adams is one of her generation's finest talents, and she portrays Julie Powell winningly. Powell has written a poignant and aggressively intimate memoir of a woman in need of inspiration.
Maybe Streep's Julia is so ebullient, I felt I was missing something when she wasn't on screen.
Julie's story is about picking yourself up and getting yourself going. We can all relate to that. It has its own bit of inspiration. You want to pat her on the back, but juxtaposed with Julia's achievement, Julie comes off a little marginal.
Part of that is the fault of the script. In the film, as Julie delves deeper into her yearlong endeavor, she becomes shrill and a touch obsessed without regard to much else while Julia's battle to publish her book takes four times as long to accomplish, and she's never depicted as a crying mess. The only effect on her marriage is enrichment.
When Streep was first cast as Julia I had a hard time picturing it, but this performance is yet another indication that underestimating her is folly. As you slip further under Streep's spell it becomes evident that no one else could've played Julia. Perhaps only someone with the kind of drive Julia had could portray her, and it's hard to imagine an actor with more drive and acclaim than Meryl Streep.
Stanley Tucci is perfectly understated as Paul Child and Chris Messina depicts Powell's ever-patient husband Eric with aplomb. “Julie and Julia” was the last film for Ephron, who died in June from pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia.