Friday, March 26, 2010

Food and Memory: Biography, Autobiography, and Film: A Panel Discussion with Jacques Pepin, Judith Jones, Alex prud'homme and Corby Kummer

A few months ago, John and I, John who isn't fazed by much, ended up in the same room as Bill Belicheck- virtual god of Patriots fans. For the first time I've seen, John was speechless. It is an incredible thing to be standing within inches of someone who you admire, someone who has had a real impact on any piece of your life whether it be a sport you love, or a part of who you are. I have experienced this feeling a couple of times as well, once a few years back when I was introduced to Barbara Lynch- famed chef of the No. 9 Park conglomerate. The other was last night. Last evening I was lucky enough to attend a panel discussion at Boston University entitled Food and Memory: Biography, Autobiography, and Film, which featured Alex prudhomme, Judith Jones and the ever incredible Jacques Pepin.
As I have mentioned in the past, I grew up with Julia Child as a presence in the kitchen with my mother and I, mainly, I'm sure because her sayings were so catchy, that they easily bonded mother and child as we sang out about "Placing the eggies in the fridgie....". What I haven't mentioned is that many of the shows that we watched with her also included her long time friend Jacques Pepin. Chef Pepin, an incredible chef in his own right, plays no second fiddle to Julia, aside, possibly from his quote ability. Together, as a team, they taught America how to cook French Cuisine in an amazingly approachable and friendly way. Their rapport with each other was charming and witty, and ached to see what their next accomplishment would be. Listening to Jacques Pepin last night, sitting in the same room as he- well it was awe inspiring.
As much as I can go on and on about Chef Pepin, I want to be sure to give credit to Mrs. Judith Jones-the editor who finally published Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child's collaborative first cook book. Mrs. Jones resume has grown and grown since that time, having edited many well known cook books, and now authoring some of her own.
And of course,
Alex prudhomme who spent hours with Julia Child writing My Life in France, which provided much of the story featured in Julie and Julia, the movie released in 2009.
The panel was guided by
Corby Kummer, a prominent food writer, holding columns both in Atlantic Magazine and Boston Magazine.
Much of the conversation that ensued throughout the evening revolved around the movie itself, but these great minds also shared some amazing facts about Julia Child, her life, her personality and her mission. Julia Child wanted to teach people how to cook. She wanted to make it easy, make it approachable, and she wanted to give American cooks the courage to cook French food, an idea that had seemed daunting previously. I think a great example of this is that she kept her phone number listed. She had it right there in the phone book so that if anyone had a question for her they could call, and she would answer. I think that that is just the most fantastic thing. In today's society we so often hear of celebrity phone numbers being sold for huge sums of money, but Julia just listed hers. What a testament to her philosophy that she was there to teach and to help. Even more so though, she stated that she was "an eternal pupil" and never lost her own lust for learning. Her listed phone number worked two ways-she could teach, and she could listen and learn.
During the Q&A section of the evening, it was asked what Julia Child's chief goal was when cooking- if it was nutrition, or regional, or presentation-what was the most important aspect to her. Judith Jones fielded the question and told a wonderful story about Julia Child teaching someone how to cook green beans. I wont try to relate the story here, but it became obvious that Julia's goal was taste. If there was true taste, then nothing else mattered.
As they did spend a fair amount of time discussing the movie itself, I think its fair to relate that they resolved some confusion that I had concerning a scene in Julie and Julia where Julie Powell learns that Julia Child was not a fan of the blog she had tribut ed to her. Julie Powell, in the movie, went so far as to say that Julia Child "hated her". I could not understand- in the numerous times I have seen the movie- why this would be. It was clarified last night by the panel. Julia Child did not hate Julie Powell, or her blog. However she did not put a lot of stock in it as the blog was less about cooking, and loving the act of cooking, but it was more about the project itself. It was a concept that hadn't occurred to me before. While Julie Powell enjoyed cooking, it wasn't her passion- writing was. Dedicating the hours, and resources, and sweat to the Julie and Julia project wasn't about cooking- it was about writing and finding her voice. It was an incredibly interesting point for me both as someone who loves to cook, as well as a blogger.
Unfortunately the panel discussion portion of the evening ended rather quickly as the evening also included a viewing of the movie as well. I scooted out before the movie began however as I had indulged in watching it earlier in the week.
I left BU last night feeling challenged, and inspired. Listening to the panel share their stories of Julia, and relating her passion, as well as their own, towards cooking was an incredible experience-at least for someone who is rather obsessed herself.

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