Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell

Broken eggs and mended hearts
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Bored rigid with listening to her biological clock, New York "office drone" Julie Powell was in danger of losing her appetite for the working-girl life. Instead of taking up yoga she set herself the challenge of executing all 524 recipes in her mother's 1961 edition of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1. From her tiny loft apartment in Long Island City, she kept a blog of a culinary year doing battle with Oeufs à la Bourguignonne and Charlotte Malakoff aux Fraises. Julie and Julia is the result of the ensuing multi-figure publishing deal.

Most thirtysomething memoirs are dominated by a Bridget Jones-style hunt for Mr Right. One reason not to warm to Julie Powell - aside from her windfall - is her happy marriage to high-school sweetheart, Eric. One reason to approve is that she consumes more butter and cheese in a week than most New Yorkers touch in a lifetime. Indeed, you have to be a bit of a dairy freak to appreciate Julia Child's recipes.

America's answer to Elizabeth David, Child - six foot two, klutzy and with a posh broad's dirty mouth - demystified professional French cooking for the Sixties "home chef". In much the same democratic spirit, Powell's refreshingly unfoodie journal shows little patience for elitist foodstuffs or shoppers. Powell saves her most biting scorn for the smart New York deli Dean and DeLuca - "the Grocery of the Anti-Christ".

In her determination to de-eroticise food, Powell is almost too sparing with the blandishments. There are very few moments when you catch yourself drooling - many recipes involve gelid eggs and lengths of string. Extracting marrow from bones for a sauce to accompany Bifteck Sauce Bercy, Powell remarks on the "dreadful scraping noises... If marrow were a geological formation, it would be magma roiling under the earth's mantel".

To tell the story of a nester's crisis through food is an attractive idea. Like Nora Ephron's heroine in the recipe-driven novel Heartburn, Powell almost drives her husband away with her frenzied cooking and slipping domestic hygiene. While lacking Ephron's style, Powell shares an enjoyably ironic take on food, sex and politics. In the end, it's the fact that she's an average girl working in an ordinary kitchen, but producing extraordinary food, that wins Powell her literary and culinary spurs.

Comments