“Julia didn’t create armies of drones, mindlessly equating her name with taste and muttering ‘It’s a Good Thing’ under their minty breath. Instead she created feisty, buttery, adventurous cooks, always diving into the next possible disaster, because *!*!*!*, if Julia did it, so could we.”
These were Julie Powell’s thoughts the day after Julia Child passed away in 2004. The former secretary had recently finished cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking—all 536 recipes of it—blogging her messes and successes along the way. While Powell never met the real Julia, her mentor’s encouragement and love of cooking are alive and thriving in her own kitchen. We sat down with Julie to talk to her about her blog and what she learned from Julia.
Relish: Did you want to be a chef when you were you a kid?
JP: I was actually a book person before I was a food person. It was Mastering the Art of French Cooking that inspired the project. The French titles and strange drawings—I found it all so mysterious since I was a child. I’d pull the book out of my mother’s pantry even though I was an incredibly picky kid and wouldn’t have eaten anything out of it. Even as I grew up and became interested in eating well and cooking, I still held back and didn’t want to approach that book in any practical way. It was literally at my bedside and I’d read it at night.
Relish: So what made you finally head into the kitchen with her recipes?
JP: For one, Julia is not credited nearly enough with being an amazing writer. Her personality and confidence pops off the pages. There’s this awareness that you’re reading words from someone who had figured out what she wanted to do, who she wanted to be and what she was passionate about. That’s basically what I was looking for at the time. I was figuring out where I was in my life and following someone who had figured it out for herself.
Relish: How did Mastering the Art of French Cooking affect your approach to cooking? Do you still rely on any of the recipes?
JP: It made me appreciate what is truly essential. I still cook almost every day, but I cook much more simply and casually. On a rainy afternoon, there’s nothing quite like puttering about the kitchen putting together a Coq au Vin. Sometimes it’s just the sort of relaxation I need.
Relish: What advice would you give for beginning cooks?
JP: Start simple—some scrambled eggs, a pork chop, maybe roast chicken. Pay attention to the food, how it smells, sounds, looks, and, of course tastes. Sometimes the thrill is making something just for myself—sautéed okra or roast chickpeas with tuna, to eat out of the pan, standing over the stove. If you like it, it’s good. You’re the only one you have to please.
Interview conducted by Jennifer Perillo, a freelance food writer living in Brooklyn, NY.