Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Julie and Julia yet. I haven’t even finished Julie Powell’s book. (Did anyone else lose steam with the book after a few chapters?) But I am a long-time fan of Julia Child. Reruns of her show, The French Chef, used to air on TV right after Sesame Street, and I have fond memories of sitting in my mother’s lap while listening to Julia’s strange warbling voice describe how to debone a chicken. But my mother never actually made any of the French Chef’s recipes. Mom was devoted to the low-calorie movement at the time and she’d often interrupt Julia’s instructions with a shocked, "Oy, look at all that butter. A person could have a heart attack!"
Indeed, Julia Child’s cooking was not health conscious in the least’nor are her recipes the sort that a mother of two can whip up in 30 minutes after a long day at the office. Which is why I found it interesting to read this article in the New York Times, reporting that Mastering the Art of French Cooking is poised to hit number one on the NYT bestseller list for the first time ever. That’s some feat for a 48-year-old cookbook with recipes that include ingredients like duck and pork fat.
I realize that the popularity of the Julie and Julia movie is undoubtably the reason why Art of French Cooking is back on kitchen bookshelves, but I have to wonder: are people actually using it regularly and if so, could it be a dangerously unhealthy food trend?
Michael Pollan, author of the book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, writes in his own NYT article that people like watching and talking about cooking more than they enjoy cooking for themselves. In that case, maybe people are buying Art of French Cooking merely to display it in the kitchen as a conversation piece.
But I have another theory: Julia’s unabashed thrill for the culinary arts has rekindled in us a passion for food that we’ve suppressed for a long time. After decades of low-calorie quick-fix meals, the once-kitschy Art of French Cooking now seems daring and exciting. Maybe we need to add a little mousse au chocolate to our healthy diets every now and again.
What do you think? Is anyone trying to master French cooking? Are you concerned about using the suggested ingredients?