Don't Diss the Chicken: The Unofficial Guide to the Julie/Julia Controversy

Well, it certainly has been a rousing and rollicking time in the joyous world of food blogger-dom, hasn't it. I don't care if you don't know a chef's knife from a thumbtack: you'd have to be living under a rock if you didn't hear something about It.

But just in case you didn't:

Short-ish version
In 2002, depressed Manhattan cubicle dweller-with-a-potty-mouth, Julie Powell, shakes up her morose life by cooking her way through every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and blogging about it. Along the way, she disses J.C.'s roast chicken recipe, and generally has a challenging time with the project, overall. This is because the recipes in MAFC can in fact be quite challenging, and sometimes even idiosyncratic. They are so challenging that one can assume that any person who ventures to cook through the entire book in a year and actually manages to do so is a dedicated cook. Sometime during the process, Julie lands a book deal with Little, Brown & Company, and sometime later during the process, her book is optioned by Hollywood. We can only gather that she made a tidy sum from the whole ordeal, but that is none of my business, and it shouldn't be yours either. It's not nice to talk about money.

In the weeks precipitating the release of the movie, Julie & Julia (which turned out to only be partially based on Julie's blog/life probably because someone finally figured out that the blog as movie needed far more meat to carry it along for 2 hours and 13 minutes), there has been more yammering and downright ill-tempered caterwauling going on between two camps -- those who think that Julie attempted to make off with the proverbial Child family jewels, and those who think that Team Julia needs to loosen the damned apron strings and stop claiming metaphysical ownership of her -- than has ever been seen this side of a Greek drama . It's been like the Hatfields and the McCoys only with Foie de Volaille.

At some point, the inevitable question is asked: what did Julia think about Julie's blog?

Judith Jones, Julia's longtime editor, answers the first question several times:

"If they met I think Julia would have liked her. But given what we had to go on from the early blog I don't think Julia thought she was a serious cook. Secondly, you just didn't use swear words in cooking. Not where Julia was concerned," says Jones.

Then, somewhere further along the line, words like "stunt" started to get tossed around, and then there was a comment about Julia and what she less-than-affectionately termed "The Flimsies-" or, cooking lightweights and folks who just didn't take the process seriously.

Jones says Child did not approve of Powell's cook-every-recipe-in-one-year project. The editor and author read Powell's blog together (Julie and Julia was published a year after Child's 2004 death). "Julia said, 'I don't think she's a serious cook.' " Jones thinks there was a generational difference between Powell and Child. "Flinging around four-letter words when cooking isn't attractive, to me or Julia. 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. She would never really describe the end results, how delicious it was, and what she learned. Julia didn't like what she called 'the flimsies.' She didn't suffer fools, if you know what I mean."

As for foul language, if Julia had spent any time behind the scenes with Anthony Bourdain and even her beloved Emeril (her affection for the latter was profoundly palpable), would she have considered them anything less than serious cooks because they let fly with enough expletives to make a longshoreman blush? Probably not. But then again, Julia was a lady of a certain time, who expected other ladies to, well, behave like ladies. And this excludes the use of four-letter words.
So maybe Anthony and Emeril were okay flinging around four-letter words because they weren't ladies.

Moving On

The dreck hits the fan. One well-known, longtime blogger blames jealousy for all of the Julie-Haters who bubble to the service: many of us who have been blogging for years have nothing to show for it, and why does she? Other questions: are food bloggers actually food experts just because they can use the words "pan-seared" and "noisette" in the same sentence? Probably not. Do skill and expertise trump visibility, and is there any place in the blogosphere where skill and expertise run parallel to visibility? Yes, of course: just visit baking guru Dorie Greenspan's blog, make her dishes, and then read her writing. Brilliant, in both cases.


Virginia Willis, estimable author of Bon Appetit, Y'all and a clear, and wonderful traditionalist who trained in France and knew Julia, writes a blog entry entitled "Julia and Julie: Yes the Swap is Intentional." The entry is hit on more in one day than a Roman hooker. Virginia being Virginia is as polite as she can be. But then things start to erupt: Julie dissed Julia's roast chicken. In fact.

The cats?

I can't lay claim to whether or not J.C.'s roast chicken is dry, mostly because her recipe scares me so I've never made it; I'm on Crestor, and the thought of massaging a bird inside and out with butter also makes me want to go out and pre-order a casket. Then again, I also never cared for Julia's spit-roasting episode, which calls for so much trussing that in our home we've dubbed it The Bondage Chicken Show. It might be the right way to do it, but still. I do get Julie's point about roast chicken being a deeply personal sort of thing; I stuff mine with tarragon and do the whole rotational thing, too. But I don't rub it with butter and until I make Julia's version, I can't say anything about it. Ditto the spit-roasted, bondage chicken version.

The question is, What if I did make them? And what if I didn't like them, for whatever reason. Could I say so? Is one person's salty another person's just fine? Is too much butter bad for me, but okay for you?

End of saga. The bloggers (myself included) have had our say. Julie did in fact diss the chicken, and Virginia was accurate in saying that Julie's tone was, well, less than respectful. And I'll venture a guess that Virginia was raised to respect those who have gone before her, who have paved the way, and who know better. And I absolutely cannot agree with her more.

But the question remains: when is it okay to call an icon on something, when it comes out funky? Is it ever? Honestly, I'm not sure. It's like when the family strudel maker suddenly wakes up and forgets to add the butter to the puff pastry. Do you say anything, or do you just shut up and eat it? Where I come from, we just eat it.

The movie: pretty good but the flash-back/flash-forward was about as forced as squeezing a size nine foot into a size six shoe. I wanted more Julia and Paul and I wanted more of their food. Then, I wanted to leave the theater and walk through the lobby to a different movie--the one about Julie during 2002, the year that every New Yorker was clinically depressed and in mourning for a world suddenly stolen from them that horrible day, on 9/11. And I wanted to watch this young woman--the one with the potty mouth and the attitude--reach back in time to ask for help from Julia Child, who singlehandedly changed our world, and to whom a debt of gratitude will never be sufficiently paid.