Julie Powell is the blogger-cum-author whose book Julie and Julia was the primary inspiration for the movie Julie & Julia, which is coming out in August and starring Meryl Streep as the inimitable Julia Child.
While Powell may have gotten famous by cooking her way through Chlld's famous book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she is hardly the first woman to teach herself to cook with Julia Child as her guide. Forty years ago, my mother was among the first generation to do just that. They were a veritable army of housewives who learned to cook in the 1960s and ‘70s by watching Julia on television and poring over her most famous tome. Raised on simple pot roasts and tuna casseroles, my mother earned her cooking stripes tackling such dishes as Tournedos Sautes Aux Champignon and Clafoutis in her suburban home kitchen. She impressed her friends by throwing elaborate dinner parties that began with homemade Pâté de Canard and ended with Tarte Des Demoiselles Tatin.
I remember my mother struggling with Julia’s method for making omelets when I was about five or six—going so far as taking a frying pan full of dried beans into the backyard to practice the required motions. Dressed in a sharp ‘70s-era pantsuit, my mother stood rattling her frying pan out in front of her with one hand, the other hand held up in the air as if to signal an imaginary waiter for the check, sprinkling the lawn with uncooked kidney beans.
Again and again, she practiced the jerk-and-flip movement Julia had demonstrated on her television show, The French Chef. Soon after, my older brother and I sat on high stools near the stove, cheering her on as she whisked eggs, poured them into the pan, then expertly jerked, tilted, and twirled until she proudly turned out a perfect pale yellow envelope of custardy eggs wrapped around melted gruyere. After mastering the technique herself, she taught my brother the intricacies of omelet-making and for years I begged her to teach me as well. “When you’re old enough,” she’d say. Eventually, she came through.
To this day, there are few foods I love more than a simple omelet. Each morning, when my infant son rouses me at some ungodly hour, I strap him into his high chair, toss him a handful of cereal, and whip out my trusty non-stick pan. The other day, as I whisked my eggs, I pulled my own well-worn copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking down from the shelf, just to be sure that the technique I’ve been using all these years really is “The Julia Child Method.”
As I read, my son quickly became restless. So to his great amusement, I began to read the instructions aloud while gesturing wildly with a whisk and doing my best impersonation of The French Chef herself. The little peanut squealed with delight as I announced, in a warbley French accent, “L’Omelette Roulée!” He shrieked with glee as I admonished my audience, ad libbing for emphasis, “You absolutely must have the courage to be rough or the eggs simply will not loosen themselves.”
At 10 months old, my son is still mesmerized by every move I make, so it’s no surprise that he is enthralled each morning as I cook my breakfast. Someday, I hope he’ll bite into his deliciously delicate eggs and ask, “Will you teach me to make such perfect omelets?” When he’s old enough, I’ll take him into the backyard with a pan full of dried beans and show him how it’s done.
Read about Julia Child’s omelet-making method in Julia's Kitchen Wisdom, just released in paperback.