Aug. 7, 2009 — -- The food world is abuzz today as the highly anticipated movie "Julie & Julia" opens across the nation's theaters.
It's a tale of the self-proclaimed "renegade foodie" Julie Powell, whose blog-turned-novel follows her misadventures cooking Julia Child's recipes in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
In the past month or so, I've been receiving countless e-mails about it, encouraging me to see Nora Ephron's film, starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep:
"I just saw this movie. It's about a N.Y. food blogger and her love of Julia Child."
"Monica, go see this movie! It's about writing and food and relationships and Julia Child. I think you'd love it."
As a food blogger, I've been aware of Powell's success in the past few years and have been enjoying the foodie frenzy from the sidelines, but I hadn't quite made up my mind. Mention the name Powell among the blogging community, particularly foodies, and you're bound to get some very heated responses. Some love her and some love to hate her.
Virginia Willis, a professionally-trained chef and best-selling cookbook author, grew up watching Child, played by Meryl Streep in the film, and spent a lot of time with her in the mid-1990s as a burgeoning chef in France. Willis created quite the discussion when her blog post, "Julia and Julie: Yes the Swap Is Intentional," landed on Gawker. Gawker titled it "Prissy Food Bloggers Hate Food Blogger Movie."
Willis used to follow Powell's blog in its early days until she was so turned off she stopped. Her "beef" with Powell is her lack of respect for Child.
"There was one day ... I was just so turned off by it," Willis told ABC News. "I didn't think it was as respectful as it could have been to Julia ... something about roasting a chicken. ... I had an immense respect for Julia and it just sort of turned me off and I quit following it.
"There are people that have Julia Child on a very high pedestal -- I might be considered one of them -- and frankly anything that is seen as disrespectful is seen as a travesty," she added.
One comment on Willis' blog post from NavaAtlas read:
"What really bothered me most about the Julie/Julia phenomenon is simply that the book based on the blog is such badly written drivel. That the movie had to be padded out with scenes from another book about Julia speaks volumes ..."
While another by Dorette read:
"What sticks in my craw is the same. When I read Julie's blog there was a huge lack of respect for Julia, and it seemed to me it was about celebrity, doing something to be noticed and not for the soul of la belle cuisine!"
Powell Splits Blogging Community
Ivonne Mellozzi, author of the blog Cream Puffs in Venice, said she has been an avid fan of Child since watching her TV show as a little girl in her grandmother's living room -- a common theme among those dubious of Powell -- and she never had any desire to read Powell's book.
"By the time I started blogging, Julie's blog was no longer active and even after her book was launched, I wasn't tempted to read it because I read Julia Child. Why not just go straight to the source [since Julie's source is Julia]," Mellozzi told ABC News.
Child and Powell never met, but Child did have a comment about her exploits:
Judith Jones, senior editor and vice president at Alfred A. Knopf, and Child's editor and friend, shared Child's sentiments with Publisher's Weekly:
"Julia said, 'I don't think she's a serious cook.' ... Flinging around four-letter words when cooking isn't attractive, to me or Julia," Jones said. "She didn't want to endorse it. What came through on the blog was somebody who was doing it almost for the sake of a stunt."
It all began for Powell on Aug. 25, 2002. Her first post of the blog "The Julie/Julia Project" read:
"Government drone by day, renegade foodie by night ... Julie Powell was looking for a challenge ... she has signed on for a deranged assignment. 365 days. 536 recipes. One girl and a crappy outer borough kitchen."
Willis understands that Powell never proclaimed to be a food expert. "She was just trying to document her exploits. As far as what I was looking for -- I wanted to read about someone who did know how to roast a chicken, rather than someone who didn't," she said.
"Deranged," maybe, but nearly seven years later to the day, Powell has become the ultimate in blogging success stories. When I started my blog Mona's Apple in 2005, the story of Powell cooking Child's recipes was already the stuff of blogging legend. An article in The New York Times in 2003 launched Powell into stardom and her book, "Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen," was printed two years later. It is No. 2 on the New York Times Best Seller's List in paperback nonfiction.
Mixed Feelings on Powell Taking on Child
It's what many, though not all, bloggers aspire to -- that one day what we deem fit to blog might someday catch the eye of an editor and the subject line "Book Deal" might pop up in our inboxes.
Few of us lowly bloggers will ever find Powell's success. Technorati, a blog search engine, tracks blog publishing and there are reportedly 133 million blogs on the Web. The chances of getting a book deal like Powell's are few and far between.
Supporters of Powell claim the "hate" is mere jealousy.
One Powell supporter Panini wrote on Powell's latest blog What Could Happen, "Good for you!! If they don't like you, they're either jealous or sanctimonious morons: unworthy of attention either way."
And another Kristin wrote, "Who knows why anyone would spend their energy hating you ... they are just jealous!"
Also coming to Powell's defense, food writer David Leite of Leite's Culineria responded to Willis with the following:
"It just amazes me how some people just don't get it ... I don't believe that Julie Powell set out to be a celebrity or planned to be disrespectful of Julia. Celebrity came about through an utterly unique idea that has spawned countless copycat (and less interesting) projects. Snark (aka disrespect) is part of Julie' style -- just spend time reading some of her other writing."
Adam Roberts of the prominent food blog Amateur Gourmet is a cook and blogger-turned-author like Powell. He doesn't see what the harm is in eating and writing about it.
"We eat, we type, we put our work out there and see what happens... It's about having a singular voice that rises above the fray, connects to an audience, and inspires others to cook," he told ABC News.
Whether they like her writing style or the way she cooks a poulet de Bresse, all seem to agree on one thing. Powell has introduced a whole new generation to the wondrous culinary talents of Child.
"Now more people know about Julia Child than they ever did before," Willis said.
Leite wrote, "I think in the end she has done more for Julia than a whole cavalcade of publicity flaks could have ... I know some young people (late teens and early 20s) who were introduced to Julia through Julie's blog and book -- an audience she may never have amassed if not for Julie..."
Is Animosity Toward Powell Misguided?
I went into this assignment with the intention of finding hordes of people boycotting the film in solidarity with Child and what she stood for over the kitchen stove. I found quite the opposite, however.
Instead I found a healthy debate on food, cooking and the return of Child to the mainstream. I haven't read the book, nor have I seen the film, but I now plan on doing both, and I may even attempt to roast a chicken while I'm at it.