Judith Jones says Meryl Streep “got” Julia Child in the new film Julie and Julia.
Jones ought to know. She first met Child — the future giant of American cooking — in 1961 when she became her cookbook editor. It was a friendship that spanned five decades luntil Child’s death in 2004.
“Meryl was terrific. I think it’s uncanny, she does become Julia,” Jones says about the actress. “She has studied facial expressions and it’s hard to pinpoint them all, but it’s true Julia.
“Julia was big and awkward and in those days, it was a liability for a woman to be that tall. And she scuffled a bit with her feet. Meryl Streep gets all of that. It has something to do with what she was. She wasn’t going to let it handicap her; she turned it into an asset. She had such a presence.”
Jones — who discovered The Diary of Anne Frank in a rejects pile of a Paris publishing house — took a chance on Child’s landmark cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which at the was gathering dust at the publishing house she worked for.
Jones, who is now 85, championed it against the prevailing wisdom of the day; that women wouldn’t cook elaborate food in their homes. The book was a smash hit.
Jones became Child’s personal editor, cheerleader and kitchen help, helping her perfect recipes in her home kitchen in Cambridge, Mass.
“I was the perfect person for her book,” Jones smiles. “I was looking for such a book and it seemed like a godsend. No one wrote that way about cooking, to truly explain ingredients, techniques and all of that.
“You can’t just cook in the French way particularly because there are techniques and rules. As Julia would say it was ‘codified.’ I needed that to be a really ‘subtle, soignée cook,’ as she would say.”
“She was always so disdainful of what she called ‘the flimsies.’ I am convinced of one thing, there are people who simply don’t have the genes to cook. You can expose them to food all you want, they’re the ‘flimsies.’ Get out of the kitchen!”
And, Jones includes some of television’s “star” chefs in that group.
“These days there is so much nonsense and bang! Particularly in the Food Network programmes — all the competitions and what I call the testosterone in the kitchen. You see them boil that chicken to death and you want to scream ‘Take it out! It’s going to be horrible!’”