About a year and a half ago a woman in my office recommended the book, Julie & Julia. It was a great book, especially as I had just moved to NY and the book described the trials and tribulations of cooking really fancy food in a tiny Queens kitchen, and having meltdowns as her worried husband made her Gimlets. Let’s just say I identified. It also tied in the world of Julia Child, a woman who I have only a vague recollection of cooking on PBS, and my mother talking in a garbled voice about her “impeccably clean” kitchen, a reference that Julia apparently made often after she received a letter about how she didn’t behave sanitarily enough while cooking. I think the idea of Julia Child is amazing, even if I don’t remember a lot of her show. She was not the tiny, perfectly coifed idea of a home cook that they present on the Food Network today. She was a somewhat homely but passionate cook, who really loved food in a way I don’t think any current TV chef does.
And on top of that, she was a spy during World War II, which is a fact that just makes every “Iron Chef” look like an absolute poser. Oh your so tough, you can cook with a surprise ingredient, but are you a fucking SPY???? I didn’t think so. Shut up and sit down Bobby Flay. While I’m on the subject of the Food Network, I don’t believe Giada eats any of that food, the skinny bitch. And I know it’s not an original thought, but Rachel Ray is really annoying. Paula Deen can be a bit much, but I admire her copious use of butter. I miss Emeril with his insane enthusiasm and his girth betraying that he really ate the food… but this is all a blog for another day. The point is that Julia Child could take any one of them in a knife fight, I’m pretty sure of it. Admit it, we would all love to see Julia “Throwdown” Bobby Flay to the ground and yell “I’ll cut you, bitch!” I think he has it coming.
I took my mother to see the movie Julie and Julia over the weekend, and there was the perfect generational gap there, me from Julie’s generation, her from Julia’s (or at least from a generation that watched Julia’s show. She is much younger then Julia herself, who died a few years back in her 90’s.) I endured the occasional nudge from my mother as Julie lay spread eagle on her kitchen floor sobbing over a dropped chicken, not that I have ever overreacted to a cooking incident. I enjoyed the film, the shots of France, the interpretation of the life of Julia Child, and the near pornographic shots of the food. Will, with his academic idea of a story arc and his library of Joseph Campbell and Robert McKee, kept asking who the villain was, what was the great adversity that needed to be overcome, and what were the stakes. Apparently boys don’t find “personal accomplishment” to be a satisfying cinematic climax. He would no doubt prefer a movie about the hypothetical Flay/Child knife fight. Side note: Never flay a child. You’ll go to jail. As with the book Julie and Julia though, I found the story to be wholly satisfying because I identified with it. Both of the main characters set out to find something that they loved to do because it fulfilled them, and it turned out to be something that changed their lives entirely for the better.
I’d be lying if I said that “Epicurette in New York” wasn’t partly influenced by the book Julie & Julia. I have a lot in common with the Julie in the book, and not just in our apartment locations. Early in the book, Julie is on a subway platform and spots a homeless person losing her shit. “The only two reasons I hadn't joined right in with the loon... were 1) I’d be embarrassed and 2) I didn’t want to get my cute vintage suit and dirtier than it already was. Performance anxiety and a dry-cleaning bill; those were the only things keeping me from stark raving lunacy” I've had that day, and from that moment on I knew this character and I would get along. From the book I learned two things. 1) Food writing doesn’t just have to be restaurant reviews and tips on recipes, itcan be really funny, and 2) It is infinitely funnier when something doesn’t go as planned. Perhaps it is the book that gave me the courage to write about my self taught cooking, despite the fact that sometimes my muffins don’t rise, and I may or may not have exploded a dish or two. Literally.
When I read Julie Powell’s book I didn’t pity her or laugh at her when the dishes went awry, I laughed with her as a fellow combatant of young women vs their kitchens and their ingredients. Watching the movie, I discovered a kinship with Julia as well. The entire reason Julia went to cooking school is that she loved to eat so much. When trying to discover what she thought she may like to do, creating food was a natural choice for her because she loved to eat it so very much. This is a concept I understand intimately. Moving to NY we had no money (not much has changed) and I walked past so many restaurants with such amazing food. I could pout about my misfortune, or I could do something about it, and so cooking became something that improved my life as well. Maybe I was a junior staff member doing administrative work, but at night, at home, I could create something wonderful, and then enjoy it. I could taste it, smell it, share it with loved ones, and so created my own sense of accomplishment. No, it’s not a story that includes explosions and a dastardly villain twisting a long thin mustache, but it’s my story, and so it makes me happy. By the packed theatre this weekend, I think there are other people with similar stories, and I bet it makes them happy too.