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The Life and Career of Julia Child is Chronicled in Tasty New Documentary (Review)

It’s surprising that it has taken so long for a documentary about legendary chef Julia Child to surface. I live in a household where the 2009 film “Julie & Julia” is pure and frequent comfort viewing, so checking this out was a requirement.

Filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen earned an Oscar nomination for their film “RBG” and their latest look at a pioneering woman was snapped up quickly by CNN Films and Sony Pictures Classics.

Unlike it’s subject, this film certainly doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s a loving and enthusiastic chronicle of a woman who changed the conversation around home cooking in America for decades.

Her husband Paul worked for the State Department and was assigned to live in Paris. After having a meal at La Couronne, Child’s life was forever changed. At a time when most Americans were eating blandly, she fell in love with French cooking. After working as a research assistant for U.S. intelligence services during World War II, she attended Le Cordon Bleu Paris and was, at the time, one of the few women working in an industry dominated by men.

She brought her skills and passion back to America and teamed up with two other former Le Cordon Blue students, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, to release “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 1961.

The success of the book led to a cooking demonstration on Boston’s public television affiliate WGBH. The appearance was so well received that Child was quickly asked to develop a series called “The French Chef.” Countless episodes and cookbooks later, Child changed the culinary landscape with her approachable and straightforward style and manner in the kitchen.

Child passed away in 2004 but her presence is felt strongly thanks to all of the remarkable archival footage and excerpts from her diaries that detail her trials and tribulations. Despite our preconceived notions, her love of food and cooking was (perhaps a close) second to her love of Paul. The film doesn’t shy away from the incredible intimacy of their relationship even, quite surprisingly, flashing a nude photograph of Child.

Culinary tastemakers and icons like Ina Garten, Ruth Reichl, Marcus Samuelsson, and José Andrés are interviewed along with family members and those who worked closely with her like Jacques Pepin and Charlie Gibson.

The film works best when it tells Julia’s story in her own voice. She was boldly determined and never afraid to learn from her mistakes. “Julia” is a highly enjoyable documentary that helps to cement her legacy as one of the greatest chefs in history.

“Julia” is playing now in select theaters across the country.

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