Keeping Julia's 'Company'
Love the movie or hate it (and even though it’s not officially out till Aug. 7, the naysayers are out in force), “Julie & Julia” has set off a wave of Julia Child love that will wash over a new generation of cooks.
But will they dig into Vol. 1 of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” as Julie Powell did? I bet not so much. When baby boomer moms point their favorite 20-somethings toward old J.C. cookbooks, they just might find the less-imposing “Julia & Company” (1978) and “Julia Child & More Company” (1980). Both were companions to her return to TV cookery after “The French Chef” series. They’re chockablock with photos. In them, she looks to be the very model of an energetic, confident woman. And one who’s having fun.
One of the goofiest things about the series was its theme music, written by a modern-day renaissance man named Robert J. Lurtsema (who died in 2000). Child described it as “an elephant walk by bassoons”; you can hear it in this YouTube clip:
I’ve certainly flipped through my copies over the years -- and not just because her Hazelnut Cornucopias, a shaped tuile, became a Thanksgiving dessert staple at our house. As splashier, trendy cookbooks filled the shelves, I’d wince a little at her “Company,” in truth: The food didn’t look so good (was it just the era? the lighting?). The menu-based formats for specific occasions went on for pages; her Cassoulet for a Crowd was touted as a streamlined version of the three-day J.C. classic I continue to tackle every four or five years. The updated recipe: a dozen pages, including process shots and steps for preserved goose.
No matter. What’s great about the cookbooks is that Child’s firm voice and desire to demystify come through. Close inspection yields revelations you won’t find in print these days. She unapologetically explains her demands for a working TV kitchen instead of a “takeaway” set. Group shots show familiar names and faces, and Child gives props to her team, including a fresh-faced Sara Moulton as associate chef, producer-exec chef couple Russell and Marian Morash, and editor Judith Jones, fine-tuning a display that looks vast enough to feed the entire French Foreign Legion.
In the first “Company,” Child cops to a problematic choulibiac. The prep work involved (fish fillets, fish mousse and mushrooms encased in a choux pastry crust) got the best of her and the crew. They couldn’t get the timing right. She would sneeze, forcing another take. They applied new crust on top of old. At one point, she actually refers by page number to the offending photo; sure enough, a cross-section view of the dish shows a layer of underdone pastry wrapped around some unappetizing sole and halibut.
It remains an ouch moment, yet an endearing one.
The thing Child was so meticulous about was instruction. The cookbooks’ meal chapters had shopping and pantry lists, ideas for leftovers and a cooking chronology. Alcoholic drink recipes included fruit-juice substitutions for the younger set. But it wasn’t all so straight up and down. Bits of her life sneaked into the narrative. (Did you know she went to a Montessori school when she was little? You learn that, as she addresses how to cook with children.)
The binding glue is showing signs of age on my paperback versions of these books, so I should be finding out how to preserve them. With Julia Child, subsequent readings will always come in handy.
-- Bonnie Benwick
The Food Section
July 30, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories: Books , Television | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Julia Child, cookbooks
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