Friday, November 02, 2007

Memo to Meryl Streep, Re: Julia Child

The news from Hollywood is that Meryl Streep will be playing Julia Child in a new movie to be written and directed by Nora Ephron, which seems fair enough since Streep played Ephron in "Heartburn," an autobiographical account of a food writer's disastrous marriage.

I can horn in on this inbred arrangement with advice to Streep and Ephron, who wrote for me when we were both magazine people, about my decade of working with the woman who lifted American cooking above burgers and fries: Play her big but modest.

One morning in the 1970s, Julia burned my breakfast toast. Her husband Paul and I were in their Cambridge kitchen talking politics while she tended the broiler, leaning over to hear what we are saying. When smoke started pouring from the oven, she pulled out a tray and dumped the charred contents into a sink. "Ah, well," she said smiling, just like the French Chef dropping a chicken on TV, brushing it off and grinning at her viewers: "Don't forget, if you're alone in the kitchen, no one will know."

Eating out with Julia was like being in Restaurant Heaven--no scowling maitre d's, no long waits to be seated, no sloppy service or mediocre food at high prices. In Boston, a restaurateur came to the table, imploring her to taste his latest creations. As a stream of plates went by, he studied her face as she took a bite from each. At the end of the meal, the check for what we actually ordered was less than if we had gone to Burger King.

At one of New York's snootier French restaurants, it was like turning up with God as your dinner companion. She told the hovering captain "the remoulade was quite good," and a parade of beaming people came out of the kitchen, from the head chef to the apprentice who chopped the celeriac, to hear her repeat the compliment.

Julia Child was the antithesis of the magazine editor diva Streep played in "The Devil Wears Prada," but I'm sure America's most honored actress and Ephron will do her justice.

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