The Julie & Julia Culinary Experience

I've got a mouthful of beef bouillon at the moment and, let me just say, I'm in heaven. For the past two hours, I've been stuck in a movie theater for a screening of Julie & Julia, thinking about this moment, and I haven't been let down.

Before I continue, let me amend that last sentence. I was not "stuck" in a movie theater in the oh-my-God-the-doors-are-locked way or even the holy-crap-terrorists-have-taken-over-the-AMC way. I was stuck only in the sense that I was starving before I sat down for the movie, the movie was all about delicious food as conjured by Julia Child and her 21st-century soul mate Julie Powell, and, the whole time, I knew I had the aforementioned meal waiting for me at the Cordon Bleu culinary school just across the sidewalk from Los Angeles' glorious Arclight Theaters. To the credit of Sony Studios, writer-director Nora Ephron, and a cast that includes Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, Julie & Julia actually came close to being as good as my beef bouillon.

Beef bouillon, by the way, is a broth in which aromatic herbs, vegetables, and the titular meat are simmered. It's French cuisine, and one which figures prominently in Julie & Julia as a dish Powell struggles to get right as she attempts to prepare every recipe in Child's rather extensive 1961 recipe collection Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Powell blogged about this daily in 2002 and 2003, and the book that resulted from her experiences has been adapted, along with an autobiography of Childs' life in Paris, as parallel storylines in Julie & Julia. To promote the gastronomical cinematic achievement, Sony invited me and a small cadre of bloggers to get an early peak at the heartwarming tale (or should I say "tales"?), and then to a special dinner prepared by Chef Brian Malarkey ... whom you might remember from Top Chef: Season 3. With Powell at his side, the quippy chef whipped up the bouillon and some chocolate cream pie and bantered about their mutual passion for cooking. Preparation directions mixed accidentally with conversation, resulting in occasionally bizarre (but hilarious) statements such as, "Will you pat down my beef here?"

Powell, for one, loves how the movie turned out, though she remains put off by the fact that her character was sanitized for PG-13 audiences. Apparently, the writer is a bit of a foul mouth, and hates that Amy Adams has to say, "Is it because I used the F word?" when asking her husband, as played by Chris Messina, if that could be why Child didn't like her blog. Powell would never say "F word." She'd just say ... well, you know what she'd just say.

Malarkey goes on to joke about how we all wonder who would play us in a movie about our life, and Powell actually got to have that question answered. Not by her, of course; studio execs. But, she laughs, "I guess Amy Adams will do," before adding, "[She's] adorable." Messina shows up a bit later to answer a few questions, Real Powell right next to Cinematic Husband, and Powell talks about how weird it is that, despite Messina having never met her real husband, he got absolutely everything right in his performance. It was her husband on screen. That's got to be weird, I think, and wonder if Powell and Messina will start making out now. They don't. I go get seconds of the beef bouillon.

While I slowly slurp down this second bowl of beefy broth, Messina shares some of the lessons he learned about making a movie about food. One trick? Keep a bucket next to you when shooting scenes of excessive eating. On one day alone, he had to eat over thirty pieces of bruschetta. The fact that he hadn't eaten the night before or anything else on the day of didn't make the feat any easier. It's a credit to his acting skill that I never questioned his enthusiasm for the bruschetta in question. When Messina finally balked on set, Nora Eprhon egged him on by saying, "Robert De Niro would do it." Of course he would. He's Robert friggin' De Niro.

When dinner is finally over, I gather my things, lift a few more pieces of Brie from the snack table, and abscond with yet another bowl of beef bouillon that I sloppily spoon into my mouth on the way to the parking garage. It's just that good, kind of like Julie & Julia. I really didn't have high hopes for the movie, since I was never especially blown away by the trailers, but the movie is quite a surprise for anyone who's ever worked hard for a dream. Julia Child and Julie Powell shared a mutual need to express themselves, one through cooking, the other through words, and their parallel triumphs make this a sort of Rocky for women. At least that's how I saw it.