By Elizabeth Farrelly
The return to college means, for many students, a return to cooking for themselves. Or, in the majority of cases, a return to comical attempts to cook for themselves. We’ve all seen the stacks of colourful, student-friendly but seldom-used cookbooks piled on the kitchen counter, running through every basic staple meal a health-conscious and diligent student could want. However, judging by the amount of effort students are prepared to put into their culinary endeavours, once book you are never likely to find in this pile is Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking, and with good reason.
When this review was assigned to me, it was suggested that trying out a few of the recipes in Child’s guide to mastering the basic skills of French cuisine. Child certainly provides a thorough grounding in the field, even taking the reader through basic cutting techniques in order to provide an authentic French style and taste. However, even as a student winding down from the summer break, with no essays or pressing social engagements to occupy my time, I still found it almost impossible to throw myself into Child’s elaborate dishes. These meals are not something you can enter into lightly, as names like Sautéed Calf Liver may suggest. Child comes across as a formidable figure, and the authority with which she directs you as she guides you through her recipes is enough to frighten anyone off.
However, as one of the most well respected cookbooks of all time, and the biggest-selling cookbook in the world at the moment, the rewards to be reaped from it must be substantial. Child truly puts Nigella to shame with her outrageously indulgent dishes. Child has a true no-holds-barred attitude to food; if it’s going to taste good, health is no issue. In a world where culinary indulgence was once left for eating out, which most pockets don’t allow for very often these days, people are being forced to indulge on their nights in instead. With less time spent out, people are finding themselves with more time to dedicate to crafting elaborate feasts for their friends, and Child’s timeless book is the ultimate way to impress.
While I had very limited success with attempting Child’s recipes, one woman who took more from the book than stress a couple of inches on the waist was Julie Powell. In ‘Julie & Julia’, Powell’s autobiographical account of her year spent cooking every single recipe in the book, we see why this book has changed so many lives. As a struggling actress, Julie was searching for some meaning in a life she felt was going nowhere, and found it, strangely, through Mastering The Art of French Cooking. With her progress through the book occurring against the backdrop of her fraught, but funny, marriage, her move into a crumbling ‘fixer-upper’ apartment in New York, and the immediate aftermath of the events of 9/11, the book is truly original and provides the kind of unpredictable tale that fiction could never produce.
A highly entertaining and unusual work, Powell provides us with intensely memorable characters and some of the most genuinely uplifting moments I’ve encountered in quite some time. The movie, starring Meryl Streep, is on release in cinemas this month and, if it bears any resemblance to the book, should prove to be one of the most singular, quirky Rom-Coms to make the mainstream this year.