It all began as "The Julie/Julia Project" --- an insanely clever blog idea by a sharp New Yorker named Julie Powell, who had been frustrated by lackluster career choices. The concept was to take the Culinary Classic of All Culinary Classics --- MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING, Julia Child's opus that taught American women everywhere that they, too, could create great French cuisine --- and attempt to make all 524 recipes within one year. And, while doing so, she'd chronicle her adventures in a blog.
Starting out with simple recipes like potato soup, the assignments get increasingly more difficult. Throughout the year she is entertained and assisted by an entire cast of extras, including her understanding husband, her brother, her crazy friends, and the growing number of readers who are tuning into her blog with regularity. As Julie delves into increasingly complex recipes, such as Bifteck Sautéau Bercy (her search for bone marrow for that particular recipe is truly hilarious), she learns as much about herself as she does about cooking.
Powell is a talented writer, and her blog remains one of the better examples of that medium to this day. Her writing style --- confessional, self-deprecating, occasionally rambling --- is really well-suited to the blog space, which makes the book version of her story occasionally feel like it's veering off-center. When she's hard at work in the kitchen, her writing is sharp and self-assured --- but Powell strays off-track a few too many times into less central aspects of her life (and especially her friends' lives) that, frankly, aren't that interesting. One wishes she would keep her focus on the food --- but when she does concentrate on that, Powell is so good you're ready to forgive her the errant lapses (at least until they happen again.)
At the end of the story, you have a woman who puts a lot of effort into both her cooking and her book. If the end result (in both cases) is a bit uneven, at the very least you're left with a strong and engaging woman who, through much trial and effort, discovers unknown levels of determination and ability within herself.
Which, if you think about it, is what Julia Child would have wanted all along.
Reviewed by Lourdes Orive on January 22, 2011