Julie & Julia, The First Book on Food Blogging, Eight Years Later

It seems like a million years ago that Julie Powell started her career-changing food blog, The Julie/Julia Project, in 2002, about a government drone who makes every recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking over a year.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t read it. I didn’t even know about it. Eleven years ago, I scoffed at the idea that writing not found in print could be worthwhile or change the course of published writing in America. I was a journalist, after all, with a career only in print.

Then Powell got a book deal. The book Julie & Julia, based on the blog, came out three years later. I never read that either. It was 2005, the same year the first edition of Will Write for Food came out, where I didn’t even mention blogging.

In 2009, the movie adaptation hit the big screen. I saw the movie and wrote a post about it because I had [Read more…]

Who is the Best Food Writer Today?

images-1While looking through my book, Will Write for Food, over the weekend, I was struck by the writers I quoted just a few years ago, all newspaper and magazine writers and cookbook authors. Certainly they were the big names in print food writing.

But that was then and this is now. So now I’m going around asking: “Who is the ultimate food writer today?”

On a cemetery walk with blogger and cookbook author Romney Steele, we decided it’s not a simple answer, depending on how you define success and food writing. Later she named cookbook authors Jane and Michael Stern, John T. Edge, and Deborah Madison; then  bestselling author Michael Pollan and Tom Philpott for food politics and science. Are these last two truly food writers?

What about from a commercial perspective? The only cookbooks I’ve seen on bestseller lists lately are Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child (sorry, she’s dead) and  Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. I’m disqualifying cookbooks by celebrities and celebrity chefs who would not call themselves food writers, like Rachel Ray and Paula Deen, and Hungry Girl author Lisa Lillien. Does this mean Julie Powell is America’s most successful food writer?

Yesterday, over herbal chai tea with blogger Tara Weaver, I posed the question. Commercially speaking, she offered New York Times writer Mark Bittman as a candidate, a newspaperman who has also mastered the cookbook bestseller lists and blogging.

But she’d rather look at success through the writing. This is where the conversation turned to bloggers, to her friends at Orangette and Gluten-Free Girl, beautiful writers like herself. Tara says she does most of her reading online today, not in books. Are bloggers the best food writers?

I’m still thinking about the answer. I’m interested in knowing what you think. Who gets your vote, and why?

Will Julie & Julia Mean More Food Bloggers?

I finally saw Julie & Julia on Sunday with two friends,  Suzan Bateson, Executive Director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank; and Faith Kramer of Blog Appetit.  Faith suggested in her blog that the movie theater collect food for the food bank, and the theater obliged by giving free movie posters to anyone who donated.

The movie was was fast-paced, funny, sexy, and the food shots were gorgeous. Merryl Streep was totally believable as Child, and Faith said it was much more fun than reading Julie Powell’s blog. (I didn’t read it, and I don’t think it’s available online now.) I had such a good time that I found myself thinking, “What was all that about, where traditional food writers were jealous of Julie Powell? Can’t we all just get along?”

Connections to a few of the people involved increased my enjoyment. I met the movie’s food stylist Susan Spungen at an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference years ago, when she was the food editor of Martha Stewart Living. We had a hilarious conversation about people who had informational meetings with her to ask how to get her job.  I enjoyed Amanda Hesser’s cameo, particularly because I interviewed her while writing Will Write for Food, and met her for breakfast at Balthazar in New York, where we inhaled a specialty,  chocolate bread. I also interviewed Child’s book editor, Judith Jones.

images-1My agent  suggested in an email that EVERYONE (her caps) will want to be a food blogger now. Wow, I thought. Do they not understand how much work it is, that Powell was already a writer of sorts, and that they’re not going to get the same kind of attention and six-figure advance? Julie Powell started her blog six years ago, had a great hook, and the tie-in to Julia Child was essential to her success. Plus, a food blog was a rare thing then. I read somewhere there are some 45,000 food blogs now.

Will Julie & Julia send foodies dashing to WordPress? Can  a newbie food blog garner the same success as Powell’s, or  Clotilde Dusoulier (Chocolate and Zucchini) or Molly Wizenberg (Orangette)? Is the public still hungry for new blogs on cooking and food? Has fatigue set in for the blog-fueled memoir?

Sony promotes food bloggers on J&J site

imagesTalk about great publicity. Sony Pictures is promoting food bloggers with links to a whole bunch of them  on its official movie website homepage for Julie & Julia.

The navigation isn’t obvious, so let me tell you how it works. Click on the white egg in the right-hand corner, and a long list of food bloggers will go by to the left. Just click on the blog name you’d like to see.

Pretty impressive, except I’m wondering why they threw in a link to Epicurious’s Epi-Log. The earliest post on that blog was a breathy report of the New York premiere focusing on name dropping and what people ate. The Sony site also provides a link to Great Grub, “a forum where you can connect with people who share your passion for food.” If that’s what Sony wanted, why not steer people to with Chow.com or Serious Eats?

Thanks to Sarah at Lettuce Eat Kale for sending the link.

Julie & Julia: Enough with the whining

julia1David Leite told me I should not rant on this blog. Then he emailed me a 1400-word rant about food writers who are bitter about the success of food blogger Julie Powell and the coming movie based on her book, and of course I got worked up.

Powell wrote Julie & Julia, about a year of cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The upcoming movie, Julie & Julia, is based on Julie’s book and My Life in France, a memoir of Julia Child written by her nephew.

There’s a lot of sour grapes from traditional food writers about how food bloggers are being taken seriously, and hand-wringing about how Julia Child wouldn’t be taken seriously today. As the movie release date approaches this weekend,  the carping increases. David pointed me to Virginia Willis’ blog post and comments as an example.

Here’s the drift of the comments going around and my response. Thanks to David for inspiring me.

1. Julia Child could not get a cookbook published today because she doesn’t have a platform. Rubbish. Publishers still publish books from authors with small platforms. They are also still taken by excellent writing.  If Child was around today, she’d probably start a a blog to help her with her platform. Maybe she’d have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, because she was always accessible to the adoring public, including us food writers. When she died just about everyone I knew had a story about the time they met her.

images2. Julia Child wouldn’t get a TV show today because she’s an accomplished cook. I agree. That wouldn’t be the main reason she’d get the job. But she was also a supreme entertainer, and — hello! That’s what television is all about. The Food Network makes no secret of it. Maybe the fact that she was a Cordon Bleu-trained chef would come third in her list of qualities, after excellent content.

Perhaps the old guard of food writers sees themselves in this victim version of Julia Child, the skilled chef whose talents are not appreciated. But Child would never be a victim. She’d be more like Judith Jones, her editor, who started a blog to promote her new book. These seasoned food writers also dismiss a newcomer like Julie Powell, which leads me to the third comment making the rounds…

3. Julie Powell has no right to be so successful because she’s a) “not a serious (read: formally trained) cook,” b) only a blogger, and c) the Julie/Julia Project was a publicity stunt.

Let’s look at these charges individually. Regarding a), Of course she wasn’t a serious cook. She was learning how to cook by cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking for a year.

Re b), She might have only been a blogger but her idea and writing were good enough to be serialized on Salon.com and led to a 6-figure book advance. And the editor didn’t care that she was not professionally trained.

And re c),  I don’t think she ever dreamed that her idea would lead to a book and a movie. We’re a celebrity culture, she was young and attractive, she had a great idea, and once Amanda Hesser wrote about her in the New York Times in 2003, the calls from literary agents and the whole circus began.

Julia2Ironically, Mastering the Art of French Cooking will now sell all over again to younger audiences inspired by the movie. I was a little shocked to see that Knopf put Merryl Streep on the cover. Talk about art imitating life. So Julia Child can sell a book today, even if she looks like Merryl Streep. Julie Powell’s book relaunched this month as well, with a new cover showing scenes from the movie.

I’m going to watch the movie with a bunch of gal pals and enjoy myself. I’ve adored screenwriter Nora Ephron since the 1970s, when she became the first woman to have a column in Esquire magazine, then considered nirvana for serious non-fiction writers. And even though I’ve been a print writer for more than three decades, I’m not bitter. It’s a new world in publishing. I’m just trying to keep up.

P.S. If you need any more proof of the decreasing power of print journalism, here’s an account of Sony’s first-class treatment of food bloggers prior to the movie opening. So far her post has generated 90 comments, none snarky. Thanks to David Lebovitz for the tip. And here’s the Matt Bites  interview with all three stars.