Among the good things that Nora Ephron’s movie, “Julie & Julia,” has wrought is renewed appreciation for Julia Child as the lovable, inimitable force of nature we knew from her PBS shows (and as I found her to be in my one personal encounter. Now an upcoming series of cooking classes at Whole Foods called “Julia and Me,” and a Film for Foodies series of classic movies are about to began at the Princeton Public Library.
About a decade ago, having more or less fallen into food writing as a sideline, I was contemplating leaving my day job (a move, by the way, I have never regretted.) To help me decide, I signed up for a food writers’ workshop. Among the presenters was Ms. Child. On the first morning each attendee was asked to give a short personal introduction. Sitting in the first row was that famous face and six-foot-plus frame. Even though she was a speaker, not a student, she stood up when it was her turn and without a hint of irony said, “My name is Julia Child and I teach cooking on television.” The room erupted, as you may well imagine. Going down the line, a fellow from the culinary program at Atlantic Cape Community College introduced himself. The next person quipped something to the effect that he was delighted to hear that New Jersey had a cooking school in addition to oil tanks — and oh, yeah — which exit off the turnpike was it anyway. When it came my turn, I began by saying that I write for newspapers and magazines in New Jersey because contrary to popular belief, we do actually have them.
After that, many of the attendees made humorous references to our fair state and their connection to it. When everyone had had a turn, Julia Child stood up again and, with a twinkle in her eye, said that she had left out something extremely important from her introduction: she, too had a connection to New Jersey. This time the room erupted in gales of laughter. It turned out that her husband, Paul, had been born in Montclair. By the way: when it came time for our first writing assignment, Child completed the exercise as if she were just one of us students.
If you missed “Julie & Julia” in the theaters, it’s scheduled for release on DVD on Tuesday, December 8. I highly recommend it, even though I detested fully half the movie. As you are probably aware, it’s based on two true stories: that of how Julia Child came to be Julia Child and that of Julie Powell, a 30-ish New Yorker whose blog about attempting to cook in 365 days all 524 recipes in Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” became a phenomenon that led to her own book and now to this romantic comedy.
Meryl Streep perfectly captures Child’s endearing goofiness, exuberance, steeliness, and dedication. Stanley Tucci puts in an equally fine performance as Paul Child. Unfortunately, only half the movie is about them. Even before the movie, I had a dislike of Julie Powell’s project, which the movie only intensified. She turned learning to cook into drudgery that endangered her job and marriage and turned eating Child’s wonderful dishes into a nightly chore that imperiled her health and equilibrium. Most moviegoers don’t share my, um, distaste, but if you do, watching it on DVD gives you the option to fast-forward through the Julie scenes.
The “Julia and Me” cooking classes are the brainchild of area resident Anne-Renee Rice Soumeillant. Like Julia, Rice Soumeillant is an American who fell in love with French food while living in France and enrolled in a professional cooking school there. After that she worked in the kitchens of such noted restaurants as New York’s La Grenouille and Philly’s Brasserie Perrier. Each class will feature a complete meal from Child’s magnum opus. The first of the four-hour sessions is Saturday, November 14, with others scheduled once monthly through March. Register at www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/princeton.
The first screening of the Princeton foodie film series on Tuesday, November 10, will be of one of the most beloved food movies of all time, “Big Night.” It, too, has Jersey connections: the action takes place in a fictional Jersey shore town in the 1950s, and it was filmed in Keyport. The series, which is free, continues once a month throughout the winter, with “Babette’s Feast” and “Like Water for Chocolate” up next. For details visit www.princetonlibrary.org.