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The most anticipated movie of August 2009—at least in certain foodie/bookclub/Francophile/Meryl Streep-Amy Adams-Nora Ephron-fan circles; that is, every woman we know, and many men too—is no doubt Julie & Julia, in wide release this Friday (August 7). In the juxtaposition of the tales of two women (Julie Powell [a pixieish Adams] and Julia Child [a dead-on—and tall!—Streep]), we’re pretty sure Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail) has another monster hit on her hands. The story connects two intrepid heroines (one modern and one of excellent vintage) across generations through their appreciation of food, the challenge of mastering the perfect recipe, and their wanting to share the love with others through writing.
Tribeca reached out to our friend and funny lady Ephron, about whom much has been written in the past month (much in the New York Times: Can You Eat in Bed?, Potlucky, Full Stomachs, and Full Marriages Too). She was nice enough to share two recipes with us—one from Julia Child herself (Lamb Stew) and one of her own design (her tweaking of Chasen’s Chili); see below—and to give us access to her longtime assistant (and Associate Producer on the film), J.J. Sacha, for his peek behind the scenes of the on-the-set gustations.
Tribeca: J.J., we heard you were essentially “the king’s tester,” required to taste-test all the food on the set. Sounds like a rough life.
J.J. Sacha: Yes, it was tough job, but someone had to do it. It was me, mostly because of proximity. I tasted everything you see in the movie, and, if I were asked to name a favorite, it would be the Lobster Thermidor [a pivotal plot point in the film]. Though choosing a favorite is hard. There were amazing things to eat on this movie. I even tried aspic, which would not rank high on the favorite list.
Was there any of that fake food on the set?
J.J. Sacha: Great question, and the answer is No. Nora was very particular about this. She did not want ANY food on the set that the actors could not eat (and eat they did!). So there was no stylized, painted, fake food. Everything was made to be eaten.
As it should be! It’s funny, with all the Julia Child masterpieces on display during the movie, the thing that got my mouth watering the most was that luscious bruschetta. Was that as good as it looked?
J.J. Sacha: It was amazing. The bruschetta shows up in the scene where Julie decides to start her blog—where she actually conceives of this insane idea to cook her way through the massive Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Our chef on set was Susan Spungen [Ed. note: she’s the sister of Nancy Spungen, of Sid & Nancy fame], and that bruschetta was Nora’s recipe coupled with Susan’s. The end result is super tasty. It was just so refreshing, with everything you want: nice, crusty pieces of bread, fried in olive oil, with fresh tomatoes, and the fresh herbs, and the salt… delicious. And I think it is perhaps the most beautifully photographed food in the movie, too. Nora would argue that, probably. One of her favorite shots is of giant chunks of butter melting in a pan.
I love that shot. So who was the biggest eater on set? Did Amy Adams really chow down?
J.J. Sacha: Well, they all ate. They had to. Chris Messina [who plays Eric Powell, Julie’s husband] was the real eater on the movie, though. Sometimes there would be a scene in which there might be as many as twenty takes, so imagine that—it’s a lot of food! He had to be constantly stuffing his mouth. He definitely had to come to work on an empty stomach, and even then, he reached a near-explosion point on more than one occasion.
There’s a scene in the movie, early on, where Streep and Stanley Tucci [who plays Julia’s husband, Paul Child] are in a Paris restaurant, and they taste the fish, and there are just no words. It’s marvelous.
J.J. Sacha: Yes, it shows the power of just a bite. I think we can all relate to that, that feeling you get when you taste something that is so good you can’t even describe it, and you just want to feed it to everyone so they can appreciate how amazing it is too, but you don’t because you want it all for yourself.
Speaking of Paris, is that a real Parisian food market we see?
J.J. Sacha: Yes, it was real, but we had to redress it to reflect the period, of course. So that’s not how it looks today, but it’s not too far off. We shot locations in Paris for a week, so all the outdoor stuff you see in Paris is really Paris.
What about the pizzeria that Julie and Eric live above? Can you really find it in Long Island City?
J.J. Sacha: It is really Long Island City. We shot all over Queens. We had to create that particular pizza place, though. Julie and Eric did really live over a pizzeria, but we couldn’t shoot at the actual apartment location. What you see is pretty close to what their home looked like, especially the interior of the apartment. The kitchen where she achieved this feat really was that small.
And did Meryl really chop that mound of onions?
J.J. Sacha: Well, I can’t say that she chopped ALL of the onions you see in that mound, but she certainly chopped a lot of onions. In fact, she got very good at it. She’s been quoted as saying that one of the things she learned on this movie was how to properly chop an onion.
As someone who has also never eaten an egg, I could relate to Julie when she had to make that poached egg. Was that hard to film?
J.J. Sacha: All the actors took some cooking lessons from Susan, and they had to do a lot of what was in the movie. The day that we poached that egg, though, we might have cheated the shot a tiny bit. Poaching an egg is really quite difficult! What we were showing, though, was just how hard it is, how the egg can so easily turn into a total mess. We didn’t really have to show an attractive poached egg until the end of the scene, when they pull it from the pot.
The chocolate cake looked incredible too.
J.J. Sacha: That chocolate cake, the Chocolate and Almond Cake from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was one of the crew favorites. We had to plan for filming a lot of takes because of the way Chris attacks the cake and takes a chunk out of it. [You’ll see.] There was just no way to put it back together and re-use the same cake from take to take. Because we needed no fewer than probably twenty cakes, there were a lot of leftovers. I would say that cake was the biggest crew crowd-pleaser of the shoot. That was a major day of eating. I think some people even went home with cakes.
So we hear that Nora has a favorite Julia Child recipe.
J.J. Sacha: I think Nora has many Julia favorites, but one of them is Lamb Stew [see below]. We don’t see Julie cook this in the movie, but Julia, at the end of the movie says she is making it—Navarin d’Agneau, she calls it. It is a great meal to eat, and to cook, on a cold, wintry day. You just feel all warm inside.