THE FREEDOM TO FAIL

With the release of the movie Julie & Julia, this August has been quite the month for Julia Child. And what an appropriate month. Fans of this exuberant cook will know that August 15th was the anniversary of her birthday, and she would have been ninety-seven. (Fans might also recall that she died in 2004, two days before her ninety-second birthday.) While the movie got mixed review from some critics—in general, they admired Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Julia Child but were less than thrilled with the whiny Julie (Amy Adams)—audiences around the country seemed to love it. Indeed, the movie has taken in more than it cost to make, which is not a given for today’s films, which often rely on DVD sales to cover their budgets.

I must admit that I loved Julie & Julia, and I can’t wait for it to come out on DVD so that I can watch the extras. The food shots literally made my mouth water, especially the chocolate pie and the boeuf bourguignon, and I was enthralled by Streep’s performance, which was full of crackling vitality. However, I must also admit that I found the “Julie” parts less compelling than the “Julia” parts, but then again, who can compete with Meryl Streep and Julia Child? Most of us would fall woefully short. 

After seeing the movie, I was inspired to read My Life in France, which Julia Child wrote with her nephew Alex Prud’homme and was published posthumously. As I read the book and followed Julia Child through France, Germany, and the United States as she ate and cooked, two things especially impressed me. The first was the sheer amount of hard work it took to put together the famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Recipes would be made, tested, tasted, and made again and again. Julia Child did not just breeze her way into America’s kitchens and then become an icon. Instead, she cooked and wrote like crazy, and she didn’t give up, even when publishers rejected her work. 

The second, and most important for me, was her attitude toward cooking failures. In My Life in France, Julie Child writes, “One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed….no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” (The italics are hers.) 

I found that advice to be tremendously freeing. Yes, she seemed to be saying, mistakes will happen. It’s too bad, but that’s to be expected when you cook. Onward and better luck next time. Julie Child was, of course, American, but I can almost see this advice accompanied by a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. 

With an attitude like that, no wonder Julie Child had a bon appétit.

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