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Julia Child cookbook sales are on fire

The film 'Julie & Julia' has heated up demand for works of the late chef who rose to fame through her cooking shows on television and books.

August 11, 2009|Tiffany Hsu and Jerry Hirsch

Ellen Bloom of Los Angeles never owned a Julia Child cookbook and always thought the famed chef's recipes would be just too difficult for an amateur like her to master.

But after seeing the movie "Julie & Julia" at the Grove last week, she rushed to the nearest Barnes & Noble bookstore to pick up the first volume of Child's classic "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." She noticed other people from the screening had the same idea.

"The way the photography displayed the food was fantastic," she said. "Just looking at it, it looked so delicious and intriguing that I thought I might be willing to put the time in to make it myself, or at least be willing to look at the recipes."

All over the country Americans are rediscovering Child, whose long career as TV chef began in the 1960s, and she is now captivating a new generation of food lovers.

On Amazon.com, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" shot to No. 1 on its most-popular list over the weekend. Bookstores have reported sellouts. Newly minted foodies have signed up for French cooking classes and made reservations to dine at bistros.

The sudden popularity reflects a rising interest among Americans in all things food, said Alice Waters, chef-owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

"It has tapped into our longing for joie de vivre in the kitchen," she said. "Cooking is not drudgery; cooking is about pleasure."

Waters said this renewed interest in food is evident in far more than the weekend box-office take of $20 million for "Julie & Julia" and brisk sales of Child's cookbooks.

"You can see it in the growth in farmers markets, in how much about food is out there in blogs, the planting of a White House vegetable garden by Michelle Obama and demand for better food on college campuses," Waters said.

It's also apparent in the rapidly expanding array of food items available at mainstream grocers, said Marcela Valladolid, the San Diego chef and Mexican food specialist.

"Slow food, local food, organic food. People are thinking a lot more about their ingredients -- even when it comes to burgers and fries," she said.

Child, said Waters, epitomized the enjoyment of cooking and eating.

You would "see her smacking her lips and talking about how beautiful the vegetables are. That's what has caught fire. This is a delicious revolution," Waters said.

A revolution the late Child would no doubt approve of.

"Julia showed people that, if you cook, you occasionally drop food and occasionally burn food, and that's OK," said Guy Gabriele, a onetime associate of Child's who is now chef-owner of Cafe Pierre in Manhattan Beach and Zazou in Redondo Beach.

She was about the "demystification" of food preparation, Gabriele said.

Raised in Pasadena, Child went to work for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. There she met her soon-to-be diplomat husband, and she took up cookbook writing while they were stationed in Paris.

She died in Montecito, Calif., on Aug. 13, 2004, at age 91.

The film, starring Meryl Streep as Child, follows her time abroad as portrayed in her memoir, "My Life in France." The chef's story is intertwined with the experience of writer Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams, who blogged about attempting to cook all 524 recipes in Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in a year.

Child's cinematic makeover has triggered the resurgence of interest in her work.

"Julia's Kitchen Wisdom" began flying off shelves last week, as did several of Child's baking books and "My Life in France," said Justin Junge, book department manager at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. The store sold out of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," which was first published nearly 50 years ago and is listed at $40 for a hardcover copy.

Some retailers, including Whole Foods Markets, raffled off VIP passes to screenings of the movie along with French wines, Le Creuset cookware sets, even "Julie & Julia" aprons.

Although some sales were triggered by marketing tie-ins, many were simply inspired by the film's celebration of food and cooking.

Taix French Restaurant in Echo Park has seen several customers who, after the movie, developed a hankering for French cuisine, manager Jill Lembke said.

"They saw the movie and said they just had to have some French food," she said.

Employees at the Barnes & Noble at Westside Pavilion, next door to a movie theater, know when a screening of "Julie & Julia" ends because moviegoers stream in to look for books by Child and Powell.

"It was a little crazy" when the film opened last week, akin to a foodie's "Harry Potter" event, store manager Lisa Abreu said. Within an hour of the first showing, the store had sold out of its stock.

"Mastering" and several other Child books sold out on Amazon over the weekend. On Monday, six of the top seven cookbooks on the online retailer's list were by Child.

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