LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Before Martha, before "The Barefoot Contessa," before the Food Network, there was...
(Soundbite of music)
WERTHEIMER: "The French Chef." With that show and her book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," Julia Child taught Americans how to cook, how to eat, how to love food as she did.
(Soundbite of movie "Julie and Julia")
Mr. STANLEY TUCCI (Actor): (as Paul Child) What is it that you really like to do?
Ms. MERYL STEEP (Actress): (as Julia Child) Eat.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. STREEP: That's what I like to do.
Mr. TUCCI: I know, I know. And you're so good at it.
Ms. STREEP: I'm growing in front of you.
WERTHEIMER: That's Meryl Streep, who plays Julia Child in the new movie "Julie and Julia." Julie, played by Amy Adams, is a struggling young office worker who decides to cook her way through "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and blog about it. Her blog became a book and now writer and director Nora Ephron has woven both women's stories into a movie. Nora Ephron came into talk about it. I told her that after I saw the movie, I had a serious desire to cook beef stew: Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon.
Ms. NORA EPHRON: (Writer-Director) And you're right to want to cook it, because it is a great recipe and it's the recipe we all cooked in the '60s, when I got out of school and you had to have a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." It was part of your equipment as an adult and you had to make Boeuf Bourguignon for your friends, so everyone did.
WERTHEIMER: That being the case, maybe you should have released the movie a little later in the year.
Ms. EPHRON: I know, because it's got a lot of stew in it. It would have been a good winter movie. It's true.
WERTHEIMER: But the idea of Julia Child, I mean as - Julia Child and "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" being a part of your life, do you feel that you have some sort of a relationship with Julia Child that made you want to do the movie?
Ms. EPHRON: Well, I think - I actually think whenever you cook, in some strange way it's a form of time travel. When I used to cook from Julia's cookbook, I had long imaginary conversations with her and I used to think maybe she would come to dinner, even though I had never met her and never did.
WERTHEIMER: The character, Julie Powell, the little office worker in her cubicle who is the other part of the story that you tell in this movie, she clearly thinks she has a relationship with Julia Child.
Ms. EPHRON: Well, and she did, because she cooked 524 recipes in a year while holding a full-time job, which is insane. She, I know, dreamt that she would meet Julia and Julia would salute her for her achievement and at least write her a nice note. But that was not to be.
WERTHEIMER: The character as Meryl Streep plays her is mostly a very jolly woman, who's, you know, a very good-natured woman, very funny. But Julia Child must have been - I never met her - but she must have been a ferocious intellect to do what she did to organize that book as ferociously as she did, to explain it as clearly as she did.
Ms. EPHRON: Well, and I think she was a great teacher. I think that one of the things she did in a way that is interesting to me because I sometimes watch some of these shows, things like "Iron Chef," which - and I'm a good cook, and I look at something like "Iron Chef" and I think it's a good thing I already know how to cook, because I would never think I could do it if I watched these shows. She made you know you could do it.
And you know, another thing that I was completely knocked out by when I did the research for this book is that the book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," was published when she was about to turn 50. And you know, we think of Julia Child as someone who was famous from the time we were�
WERTHEIMER: Aware of television�
Ms. EPHRON: Yes, aware of food, and it's so astonishing that she turned her life around as late as she did. She just didn't become herself till she was 50 years old.
WERTHEIMER: It is remarkable, and the other thing, of course, the other part of the - there is a certain similarly, I supposed, in the two women that you make - that you made the movie about in that they're both obsessed people.
Ms. EPHRON: And they both want to do something, and aren't doing it. And one on the - you know, turning 31, approaching 50, they both did it, through food.
WERTHEIMER: They both had really nice husbands.
Ms. EPHRON: They did. I know. Thank God they really did or I would be accused of making up men who don't exist.
WERTHEIMER: The other thing, though, I shouldn't leave Meryl Streep with the notion that she was, you know, that she was the big galumphing gal because she had me so convinced she was Julia Child that I absolutely thought that you had intercut real "French Chef" footage with the movie.
Ms. EPHRON: That's great, that's great. I know, and you know, it's weird because they don't really look alike�
WERTHEIMER: Not at all.
Ms. EPHRON: And yet the minute you see Meryl you think, oh, that's Julia Child. But that is, of course, as they say, acting.
WERTHEIMER: Do you still use that cookbook, "Mastering the Art"?
Ms. EPHRON: Well, I use it for lamb stew.
Ms. EPHRON: And I made Navarin, danyo(ph) - and I made the Boeuf Bourguignon this year again and it is great. And there's a recipe that we use in the movie of chicken breasts with cream and mushrooms and pork that takes about 35 minutes to cook and it's fantastic. I always use it for that.
WERTHEIMER: You think this movie might bring back butter as some�
Ms. EPHRON: Well, it should, because you can never have too much butter. That is my belief. And I stuck it into the movie. If I have a religion, that's it.
WERTHEIMER: Nora Ephron wrote and directed "Julie and Julia," and she joined us here in our studio in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
The veteran writer-director talks about channeling Julia Child — and identifying wholeheartedly with the famous foodie's passion for butter. Ephron directed the new film Julie and Julia.
Nora Ephron never met Julia Child. But the Hollywood veteran — the writer-director behind Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail and now Julie and Julia, a film about the iconic chef and a food blogger who plows her way through hundreds of Child's recipes — says she always felt a connection to television's famously unscripted food evangelist.
"When I used to cook from Julia's cookbook, I had long imaginary conversations with her," Ephron tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. "And I used to think maybe she would come to dinner, even though I had never met her, and never did."
That sentiment was clearly shared by Julie Powell. The young blogger cooked the recipes from Child's landmark Mastering the Art of French Cooking — all 524 of them — in a single year. While holding down a full-time job.
"Which is insane," Ephron says. "She, I know, dreamt that she would meet Julia, and Julia would salute her for her achievement, and at least write her a nice note. But that was not to be."
A Teacher Whose Lessons Included Confidence
Child built an empire and sparked a whole new TV genre — the cooking show. Not only was she savvy, but she also was a great teacher who coached generations of women, Ephron says. And her methods are rarely seen on television today.
"I'm a good cook, and I look at something like Iron Chef and think, 'It's a good thing I already know how to cook' — because I would never think I could do it, if I watched these shows," Ephron says. "She made you know you could do it."
Though Child and Powell had different life experiences, both found their literary success through cooking — Powell (who became an Internet celebrity and turned her quest into a best-seller) as she turned 30 years old, Child as she approached 50. Ephron says she was surprised to learn that Child came to the cooking scene later in life.
"It's so astonishing that she [Child] turned her life around as late as she did," Ephron says. "She just didn't become herself until she was 50 years old."
Ephron tells Wertheimer that, if nothing else, she hopes the film — which portrays extravagant food scenes — will bring back butter, an ingredient whose praises Child never stopped singing.
"Because you can never have too much butter, that is my belief," Ephron says. "If I have a religion, that's it."