"I’M JULIA CHILD". AND YOU'RE NOT.
A new documentary on ‘the woman who taught America to cook’ is two hours of Frenchy foody fun. Two hours of Julia Child is probably enough, mind. It’s pretty rich.
Watching ‘Julia’ (released nationally in select cinemas on November 4) is like lowering your body into a frying pan of foaming French butter and basting yourself until golden and crisped at the edges. Like sole meuniere, the first dish she tasted in Rouen at restaurant La Couronne.
It’s a full-on immersion into one American woman’s journey out into the wider world, leaving behind a diet of Spam and Jell-o, and discovering instead a landscape of wine and roast chicken and charcuterie and self-fulfilment and – always – butter.
This isn’t Meryl Streep playing Julia (as in the 2009 film Julia & Julia), it’s Julia playing Julia, in all her imperious, shouty, ambitious, hammy, charming glory, with archival interviews and cookery demonstrations.
Tasty highlights (then checkout the trailer at the foot of this post):
# When she flips a heavy pan of potato galette on camera – braver woman than I am – saying “you just have to have the courage of your convictions”. Then she loses half of it on the stove top. “Well, that didn’t go too well” she observes, before suggesting a thorough baking in the oven would solve the problem.
“Anyone who has been in the kitchen knows that awful things happen all the time, and you just have to make do.”
Lesson: the importance of learning from failure.
# Anne Willan, the English author of French Regional Cooking - another great cookery teacher - gives a beautiful cameo in which she describes the exact sounds that gravy makes when it is done. ‘C’thuck, c’thuck’ she says, allowing her tongue to cling to the top of her mouth momentarily. Just beautiful. Lesson: A good cook knows how their food sounds at every stage.
# Julia’s relationship with Paul Child, whom she met in Sri Lanka while working in the Office of Strategic Services at the start of World War 2, and subsequently lived with in France and America for many years until his death (Julia herself died in 2004 at the age of 91). The images of them staring at each other – frankly, equally - are a true testament to their marriage, which was clearly bound in butter and held together by caul fat and reverse martinis.
Ruth Reichl, former editor of America’s mighty Gourmet magazine and one of the many food world big names to contribute insights, made a point of reminding us that even back in the 1960s and 1970s, Paul loved to step back and allow Julia to shine. As she said “men didn’t do that then.” Lesson: None that we don’t already know.
# The entire show was nearly stolen by Daniele Delpeuch, former chef to French President Francois Mitterand, who cooked sole in industrial quantities of butter and made it seem almost healthy. Lesson: Honestly, those French women, I adore them.
#The fact that she genuinely wanted to help people be better cooks. Lesson: All the great ones do.
Meet my copies of Mastering The Art of French Cooking, which took Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle TWELVE YEARS to write, and test and retest and -eventually - get published in 1961. I’ve had them so long I can’t even remember buying them. But the pages stick together on Cheese Souffle, and Gigot Farci en croute; which I do remember; so this is my way of saying thank you.
A LITTLE TASTE: Beurre au Citron (lemon butter sauce)
“This is a minor variation of beurre blanc” writes Julia Child, “and very nice with fish and vegetables”. Reproduced without permission from Mastering The Art of French Cooking (page 117, vol 1).
1/8 pint (70 ml) lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt
Pinch of white pepper
4 oz (115 g) chilled butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 to 3 tbsp hot fish or vegetable stock
Boil down the lemon juice with the salt and pepper until it has reduced to 1 tablespoon.
Remove from the heat and immediately beat in 2 pieces of chilled butter with a wire whisk. Place over very low heat and beat in the rest of the butter, a piece at a time, to make a thick, creamy sauce. Immediately remove from heat.
Just before serving, beat in the hot liquid (stock) drop by drop to warm the sauce. Correct seasoning and serve in a barely warmed sauceboat.
Thanks to Sony Pictures Classics for the trailer.
And thanks for reading! And liking, commenting, subscribing, or sharing. Special thanks to my right-hand man, Terry Durack, even though my hand is finally free of all plaster and robocop splints, has received a pink elephant stamp from the Hand Clinic and now just has to do some physio.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands and waters upon which I work, live, cook and play; the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I fully support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to be enshrined in Australia’s Constitution.