Julie Powell, the food writer whose yearlong commitment to preparing all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was immortalized in the film “Julie & Julia,” died Oct. 26 at her home in Olivebridge, New York. She was 49.
Powell’s husband, Eric, confirmed her death to The New York Times Tuesday. The cause was cardiac arrest, he said.
A native of Austin, Texas, Powell was working at a low-level administrative job in Manhattan when she launched a blog, the Julie/Julia Project, on the progressive news site Salon in 2002. Her mission, she said, was to approach all of the recipes in Child’s two-volume cookbook from the perspective of a relatively inexperienced foodie.
Along the way, she aired her frustrations with tracking down many of the rare ingredients Child called for, and shared quirky anecdotes about her personal disappointments when it came to both her career and private life.
The Julie/Julia Project was an instant smash, and three years after the blog’s launch, in 2005, Powell’s entries were collectively published as a book, “Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.” It was later released in paperback as “Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.”
“Food bloggers, like all bloggers, are contentious, they say what they think and they hate on people. And that’s good and valuable,” Powell told the Orlando Sentinel in a 2009 interview. “But it’s a Wild West kind of world, and people feel free to say things they never would in a face-to-face civil conversation. We have a medium where we can type in the snarky comments we used to just say out loud to our friends.”
Many credit Powell’s cheeky, self-deprecating narrative style with paving the way for the more accessible approach to food writing now embraced by the likes of Ina Garten and Alison Roman. In 2009, Powell’s words would reach an even bigger audience when her book was adapted as “Julie & Julia,” a romantic comedy starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep as Powell and Child, respectively.
Writer-director Nora Ephron took significant liberties with Powell’s book, and in the end, “Julie & Julia” was as much of a biopic about Child as it was a cinematic take on Powell’s yearlong journey. Still, the movie was a critical and commercial hit, earning Streep her 16th Academy Award nomination. It also renewed interest in Child’s life and work.
The same year that “Julie & Julia” was released, Powell released a second book, “Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession.” The book was noticeably darker in tone, detailing extramarital affairs involving her and, later, her husband.
While “Cleaving” didn’t match the success of “Julie and Julia,” Powell’s legacy will live on among a new generation of food writers and enthusiasts, as evidenced by the countless tributes that appeared on social media Tuesday.
“How very sad. She was so young,” chef Pim Techamuanvivit tweeted. “I was a huge fan of her blog, and I am definitely old enough to remember when social media was more about being snarky about oneself than putting down others. RIP Julie.”
Echoing those sentiments was Smitten Kitchen founder Deb Perelman, who declared Powell “the original food blogger.”
“Cooking through Julia Child’s books, she made Child relevant to a new generation, and wrote about cooking in a fresh, conversational, this-is-my-real life tone that was rare back then,” she tweeted.