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Jennifer Evans Gardner

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Julie, Julia and Me

Posted: 08/20/09 07:00 PM ET

I have to be honest - I am jealous of Julie Powell. You know, the girl who wrote the blog and book about how she cooked her way through Julia Child's recipes, which became the basis for the film "Julie and Julia." I'm jealous, of course, because I didn't come up with the idea myself - and just a little bitter that my mother chose to name me Jennifer rather than Julie.

My envy began months ago. When I first saw Julie and Julia in the bookstore, I felt that I had been robbed. Julia Child belonged to me, didn't she? That I had never met her in person mattered not - that is how powerful Julia's connection was with her audience. Besides, I did know Julia... sort of. In fact, I may have been the last person to interview her before she passed away.

In the summer of 2004, I was working on a book project at KCET when my editor asked me to interview and write about one of the station's greatest supporters - Julia Child.

I literally jumped with joy. You see, Julia was my idol. Having lived in France myself, I had also fallen in love with "real food" based on one meal. I connected deeply with Julia's joy - the joy of creating something incredible in the kitchen, the joy of sharing it with loved ones. I, too, get over the moon about a great bowl of Bouillabaisse or an exceptional Daube de Boeuf. I, too, eschew the idea of cooking non-fat "diet" cuisine, firmly of the mind that eating one delicious chocolate chip cookie (preferably loaded with pecans) is far better than eating four sugar-free chocolate chip cookies. I, like Julia, would rather do without. I, like Julia, loved and married a man named Paul. I've even written two cookbooks myself (okay, perhaps titles like "Bitchin' In the Kitchen - the PMS Survival Cookbook" and "Barefoot in the Kitchen" aren't serious gourmet titles, but they count). But I digress. To put it simply, I felt I knew her already.

I scheduled my interview through Julia's longtime assistant, while another friend of Julia's at KCET, Michelle, suggested that she come along to break the ice (and take photos!). I gladly agreed, and began to count the days. I pulled out my favorite cookbook "From Julia Child's Kitchen," the pages stained from use, which Michelle suggested I bring along for Julia to autograph. I considered what, if any, gift I could bring her as a thank you for her inspiration, finally settling on one of my own cookbooks, which Michelle insisted would be just the right gesture for Julia.

On the day of the interview, I was on my way out the door to Santa Barbara when I got a call from Julia's assistant. Julia had fallen ill, and the interview would have to be rescheduled. My heart sank, not just because I wouldn't meet her that day, but because though I'd never met Ms. Child, I cared about her. I knew how old she was, and that her health had been flailing. I didn't want her to be sick.

The day before the rescheduled interview date, her assistant called again. Julia was still not better. In fact, if I didn't mind, could I please fax Julia the interview questions in advance. I did so, and a few days later, I received a fax back. I was delighted with Julia's thoughtful responses i.e., other than French or American, she "adored Chinese cuisine"; she is open minded to new food trends such as RAW food, but "prefers a good burger herself"; and she "never takes seconds" (so far the only major difference in our dietary habits!). And, always the lady, she refused to comment on Martha Stewart's woes.

It was soon decided that instead of a full interview, which might prove too strenuous for Julia, perhaps Michelle and I could just come for lunch, where I might ask her to expand on one or two of the interview questions. I was thrilled with the idea, but went ahead and wrote my piece for KCET based on some of Julia's answers. Unfortunately, the lunch never happened.

On August 13, Julia passed away. I had never met her, but I loved her, and I was deeply saddened.
One of the things I admired most about Ms. Child was the way she encouraged us to forget about perfection and just enjoy the process (she even messed up in the kitchen on TV a few times just to prove it!). In a world where so much has gone awry, this seems like great advice, in or out of the kitchen.

I've just come back from seeing "Julie and Julia," and while the film is nowhere near perfect, Meryl Streep's rendition of Julia is. Amy Adams plays a fine version of Julie Powell, though my envy most certainly colored my opinion. In the film, there is a scene where Julie cries when she learns that Julia does not approve of her blog. "She thinks I'm using her," Julie sobs, while half the audience shifts uncomfortably, thinking of course you used her. According to the film, Ms. Powell didn't even own a single Julia Child cookbook until she decided to blog about it. Either way, bravo to her for being clever enough to find a way to get noticed, and for becoming the writer she always dreamed of. As for me, I am thinking of starting a blog of my own... do you think "Jenny and Giada" has a good ring to it?