Today, August 15, the great and grand American doyenne of French cooking, Julia Child, would have been 99 years old. She died in 2004, mere days before turning 94.
She was plenty famous during her lifetime, of course (thanks in no small part to those wonderful PBS shows). But with the talents of Nora Ephron (who wrote the Julie and Julia screenplay) and Meryl Streep (who played Julia with such lovely aplomb) and Julie Powell (who started the Julie and Julia blog project long ago in August 2002, which became the book, which became the movie) — Julia Child is now firmly and forever entrenched in the pantheon of culinary culture and history. And thank god for that….
I love the woman. When I think about that stupid question we’ve all been asked —“Who would you like ot have dinner with, living or dead?” — Julia’s always on my top-10 list. Not Jesus, not Einstein, not Ghandhi, not even Shakespeare (well, maybe Shakespeare). But always, always Julia.
And yes, I own Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In two volumes (mine is the 1981 edition, the 32nd printing).
But now, for the blasphemy. As a cookbook, MtAoFC sort of sucks.
It’s detailed. It’s complicated. And it’s downrighted dated. Some of the recipes call for canned cream of mushroom soup and frozen vegetables, for god’s sake. Other recipes are overly-explained and run on for pages and pages and pages —a counterpoint to the real essense of some of France’s best culinary traditions. In Slate.com, Regina Schrambling wrote, “Everything in the tome looks complicated, which of course guarantees the results will work but also makes cooking feel like brain surgery.”
Even so, it’s glorious to know that the movie, Julia and Julia, resulted in unprecedented new sales of Mastering the Art of French Cooking —and that a new generation of food lovers now feel connected to the magnificent, unequaled Julia Child.
She’ll always be on my list of “who I’d love to have dinner with.” And I think about her every time I roast a chicken. With lots and lots of butter.
Bon anniversaire, Julia!