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Characters in 'Julie & Julia' are competent in the kitchen

Meryl Streep, as Julia Child, is a whiz with a whisk and other kitchen tools in Julie & Julia.

Columbia Pictures

Meryl Streep, as Julia Child, is a whiz with a whisk and other kitchen tools in Julie & Julia.

Let others assess the directing, writing and acting in Julie & Julia; I'm here to critique the food.

I came to the film with high hopes for the authenticity of the cooking scenes since director-screenwriter Nora Ephron writes often and well about food, and is reputed to be an excellent cook. Then, too, Meryl Streep starred in one of my favorite movie-food scenes: using her hands to separate the whites from the yolks in the otherwise forgettable The Hours.

So I am happy to report that I could find no major culinary gaffes in Julie & Julia. Neither Streep, who plays Julia Child at the very beginning of her career, nor Amy Adams, who plays secretary-blogger Julie Powell, achieves the mastery demonstrated by Tony Shalhoub in his bravura omelet scene in Big Night, but then again, their characters are supposed to be talented amateurs and not professional chefs.

Both actors wield a whisk confidently — whether making Hollandaise sauce (Adams) or meringue (Streep).

Streep does a good job of using a tapered French-style rolling pin to beat a chilled rectangle of pastry, and Adams looks comfortable with tongs, whether browning meat or frying bread. (The fried bread was, to my mind, the film's big surprise. Preparing bruschetta for herself and her appreciative husband, Adams' character does not go the traditional Italian route of grilling the bread and then drizzling it with olive oil; instead she fries it in a pan, whether in butter or in oil I couldn't tell.)

As for knife skills, the truest indication of culinary expertise, little is shown. Adams does fine with the tomatoes for the aforementioned bruschetta. Streep has two big onion-chopping scenes and these are played for laughs rather than accuracy. She does not use the classic three-step method.

Removing all the bones from a duck destined to be cooked in pastry plays a significant role in the movie, and there's a scene toward the end in which both actors confront this complex task. Unfortunately, no actual boning takes place on-screen.

The recipe that plays the biggest part in Julie & Julia is boeuf Bourguignon, and while she is browning the beef, Adams' character informs her husband, "If you don't dry meat, it won't brown." (Child's exact words in her seminal cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking are "Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp.")

This is the kind of advice that can change lives. Rarely have I seen a movie with as valuable a take-away message.

Characters in 'Julie & Julia' are competent in the kitchen 08/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 5:30am]

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