When Julia Child Frowns

Julie Powell, author of Julie & Julia

Julie Powell, author of Julie & Julia

I met Julie Powell, briefly, when we were invited to judge a chili cooking contest in Kingston, NY. There were three judges and only two contestants so we had plenty of time to hang out and talk.

Julie’s husband Eric was with her. So was their dog. I liked them all immediately. Far from being self-absorbed or narcissistic, I found Julie to be friendly, funny and generous, offering to find us all some water to drink on the hot afternoon and happily sharing anecdotes. She talked about her plan to apprentice at Fleisher’s, a little butcher shop in the neighborhood. I hadn’t yet read her book, Julie & Julia or her blog, the Julie/Julia Project though later I enjoyed both.

I can understand how disappointed she was, not only that she never met Julia, but how sad she was that Julia was not supportive of her idea of cooking her way through all the BOOK (Mastering the Art of French Cooking). Until I saw the movie, Julie & Julia, I had forgotten about something that happened with Julia.

There was a party in a private room in a grand restaurant in Chicago. There were 12 guests including Julia. It was a spectacularly gorgeous, dark wood panelled space with soft lighting, golden candles, cascades of brilliantly colored flowers, crisp white linen table cloths, glistening crystal, the silver, heavy in the hand. There was a buzz of harmonious conversation among old friends. The wine was poured. A toast toasted. Glasses clinked.

An anticipation of good food shared with good company. Wide smiles.

Waiters enter. Heavy laden. “Bon Appetit!” warbled Julia.

Cutting his meat, a tuxedoed guest from a little way down the table speaks above the murmurings. “Julia. What do you think of your new biography?” he asked, as he raised his fork to his mouth.

Julia turned to stone.

She thumped her glass to the table so hard, the red wine jumped and spilled onto the tablecloth.

“I don’t want to hear one more word about… that!”

This is the only time I ever saw Julia, not angry, FURIOUS!

There is a thunderous silence.

We sip our wine nervously.  Acutely embarrassed. We look around trying to think of something to say. And pass the butter.

There’s another moment of astonishment.

Hesitantly conversation resumed.

I never asked Julia, “Why?” I don’t know if anyone else did either.

I can only guess that she felt her privacy had been unforgivably violated. It was one thing for she and Paul to send that photograph of themselves in the bathtub. Naked? And quite another for a stranger to enter the bathroom, uninvited.

A boundary had been crossed.

Had Julie asked Julia’s permission to do what she did, I’m certain Julia would have said a resounding “NO!”

There’s no way Julie could possibly have anticipated Julia’s response. But that doesn’t diminish that Julie had a great idea. Julie should be applauded for her valiant efforts and finding her own voice.