Inventing Julia

In honor of the late, legendary Nora Ephron who immortalized another legend in the movie Julie & Julia

Living in Paris, Julia Child knew she was not a culture fit in the world capital of Coco Chanel chic. She was an Ivy League-educated, big-boned, man-tall expatriate wife, now following her husband’s career in the forerunner of the CIA. The Childs were childless, so she had no tethers into the local American School, which drives the social scene in many foreign postings. What’s a young empty nester to do?

Even when dressed in my very best clothes and with a lovely hat on, I felt like an old frump in those luxe surroundings…

One night, my friend and I got dressed up for a fancy party at the U.S. Embassy. We had expensive hairdos, put on our nicest dresses, chicest hats and best makeup.

Then we looked at each other. ”Pretty good,” we declared, ”but not great.” We had tried, and this was the very best we’d ever look.

My Life in France

Julia was realistic, but aspirational. She was an achiever, but didn’t try to be something she could not accomplish. She combined her strengths and passions and targeted another opportunity native to her new international home: French cuisine.

She had discipline, organization, creativity, perception, foresight and — uniquely, a first-hand knowledge of ”housewives” on both sides of the Atlantic. She attacked her mission with a vengeance. It’s a case study in career development. She enrolled in the best school, Le Cordon Bleu. She gained core skills, practiced and achieved mastery.

Then, brilliantly, she applied it all for the perspective of a growing breed of stateside American women — educated and talented like Julia and also seeking excellence and adventure in their lives. She researched and reformulated what she learned — truly approaching her work as a science of ingredients, tools, methodologies and results. Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a multi-media classic, decades later a hot topic with a new generation of followers and fans in le blog and cinéma. How fabulous to be portrayed by Meryl Streep in one of Nora Ephron’s wonderful films Julie & Julia!

I love the gender interplay. Julia first had to compete in a man’s world of chauvinistic French chefs. At 6′ 2”, she dominated them in stature and likely intellect. Oddly, she had better odds to succeed there than in the Parisienne woman’s world of fashion and society. But she knew her initial female cookbook audience and captivated them with a fresh way to expand their horizons and deliver a satisfying outcome.

Then, she converted her readers to viewers, when she added a dash of luck and timing in an era when television was an emerging technology in need of content and eyeballs.

Julia Child created a recipe for re-invention. She singlehandedly defined a new career, paving the way for other domestic divas, media darlings and celebrity chefs. Julia was strategic, but pure of heart. She tapped into her passion — but with a process and dedication that goes beyond the self-help utopia of following your dreams and waking up in a bed of cash.

So here’s to you, Julia. Bon appétit!

copyright 2012 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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Copyright © 2012 Nancy Keene