Julia Child wrote a famous cookbook.
Julie Powell wrote a famous blog about it.
And now that blog is a movie with famous people in it.
Julie & Julia opens Friday, giving hope to food bloggers everywhere that they too might be recognized for the work they do in the wee hours. The icing on the gateau would be Meryl Streep or Amy Adams playing them on screen. Maybe then they could quit their days jobs.
Julie & Julia is the first Hollywood movie that's sprung from a blog, but not likely the last. There are thousands of midnight writers in the blogosphere, with easily more than 5,000 sharing their thoughts on food. These largely self-published writers are critiquing restaurants and cookbooks, detailing cooking triumphs and disasters, waxing poetic about farmers markets and seasonal ingredients and, of course, singing the warm and fuzzy praises of Mom's Sunday dinners. Or, on the flip side, letting the world in on the family's dirty little secret: Mom was a lousy cook.
The quality of food blogs varies widely, but many are slick efforts with gorgeous color photos and clever writing. Though making a living at blogging may be the goal, it is far from reality for most online authors.
Nevertheless, the food blog is alive and well — and has come a long way — in the six years since Julie Powell concluded her yearlong project to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child's 1961 Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her efforts make up half the movie, and My Life in France, Child's autobiography written with nephew Alex Prud'homme, inspired the rest. (Child and Powell never met, and the legendary cookbook author died in 2004, a year before the blog became a bestselling book. Child was not a fan of the blog see story Page 5E.)
“I think Julie's blog definitely inspired a lot of food blogs," says Amy Sherman, 45, of San Francisco, blogger of the popular Cooking With Amy (cookingwithamy.com).
Like Powell, Sherman was part of the early days of food blogging. Both made a 2003 Forbes magazine list of the top five food blogs. That didn't get Sherman a movie deal, but it did help launch her into a cookbook writing and recipe development career.
Sherman says most food bloggers, at least those who stick with it, experience a turning point that makes the difference between hundreds of visitors and thousands. For Powell, it was an article in the New York Times, which led to her book and subsequent movie deal and occasional writing assignments for the newspaper and other magazines. For Sherman, it was the mention in Forbes.
Success has come so quickly for Tampa Bay area blogger Jaden Hair that she can't pinpoint the moment of impact.
Local blogger makes good
Hair, who lives in Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County with her husband and two young sons, started blogging just 2 1/2 years ago at Steamy kitchen.com. Her specialty is deconstructing Asian recipes for the home cook. She writes a column for the Tampa Tribune and appears regularly on local daytime television shows. She's not a trained chef but learned to cook traditional Asian dishes from her mother.
Steamy Kitchen, the cookbook, will be published in October by Tuttle, which specializes in Asian cuisine cookbooks. Last week, Hair signed with New York literary agent Janis Donnaud, who represents Paula Deen and other well-known chefs and food writers. The Food Network asked her to audition for The Next Food Network Star, but she declined.
"It has all happened so fast," says Hair, 37. "When I really started having fun with the blog, it became successful."
Hair says she gets about 500,000 page views a month. In the blog world, that's big-time, and Hair, whose background is in marketing, is a relentless promoter. She has more than 15,000 followers on Twitter.
(There is no independent agency that monitors blog traffic, so numbers come from bloggers themselves.)
In addition to her marketing acumen, Hair has become an excellent food photographer. She produces the photos for the blog and has done all the photography for her book, an unusual arrangement.
Hair credits her success — and the success of any blogger — to authenticity and passion.
"With a blog, you have to be absolutely authentic. You can't B.S. on a blog," she says.
Hair says the best food blogs have several things in common: "a strong-voice, drop-dead gorgeous photography and they are entertaining or useful."
We might add attitude, too. Powell certainly had it on her blog, though her colorful language was cleaned up for the book and the movie. Hair is not beyond dropping an f-bomb here and there. Despite the mainstream media moving more and more into the online world, it's still a bit of the Wild West and you'll read things you won't see in most general circulation publications.
Even with the growing cadre of food bloggers, Hair still thinks there is room for growth.
"Newspapers aren't doing well; TV has lots of layoffs," she says. "Where are those eyeballs going? They are going online. I am part of the new crop of bloggers and now I am making most of my income from my blog."
A creative outlet
Derek Lee cheekily calls his blog the Best Food Blog Ever (bestfoodblogever.com). Lee, 37, is not unlike lots of Internet foodies who toil at an unrelated job during the day and play out their food passion to the glow of the computer screen at night.
He has an engineering degree he never used and a law degree that turned him into an attorney for two years. Now he's a technical writer in Chester County, Pa. That job pays the bills, but blogging satisfies his creative side, he says. He writes food essays on his year-old blog and has an insightful piece about Julia Child's place in the pantheon of legendary chefs.
Lee sees Julie & Julia as the embodiment of a mind-blowing "media whirlwind." As he puts it, "It started as a book, which 40 years later starts a blog, which then gets turned into a book which turned into a movie."
Both in an interview and on his blog, Lee has lots of pithy things to say. He believes that if he writes well enough, people will want to read his work. He's careful to edit himself because "the only thing standing between you and crappy stuff is a mouse click."
But Lee knows that anyone with a computer can start a blog.
"There is a very low hurdle of entry," he says. "If you want to start a blog about doughnuts, you can have one up and running in an hour. To get a cookbook published, you need an agent and then a combination of skill and luck."
Lee says he is not measuring his success by hits — he gets about 4,000 a month — but by the opportunities that have come along.
Last week, the Best Food Blog Ever had fleeting fame by being the featured blog on the movie studio's promotional Web site for Julie & Julia.
And just like that, Lee was part of the media whirlwind.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586. Her blog, Stir Crazy, is at blogs.tampabay.com/food.