Food Biz: Julia Child for entertainment, packaged food for dinner


A few weekends ago, I was too ill to spend my weekend running to the farmer's market, tending my "victory" vegetable garden, canning jam, and baking bread, my typical weekend fare. Instead I went on a marathon of old episodes of The Next Food Network Star, culminating in a challenge, during which the final three contestants went to a private screening of Sony Pictures' Julie & Julia.

The trio was instructed to cook a three-course dinner party meal that reflected their own passion for cooking. Melissa D'Arabian, who ultimately won her own cooking show, made two kinds of pastries. World-famous pastry chef François Payard liked it, and called her an "artisan," who we see in the kitchen rolling out cream cheese-butter pastry and placing little mounds of jam in the centers. Other contestants went for old-style slow-cooking, with braised ribs and risotto; they both failed, since two hours is not enough for classic peasant cuisine.

Cut to an advertisement for Special K crackers (cereal: it's not just for breakfast, lunch and midnight snacks any more!) and "skillet meals" by Bertolli, which are full meals in foil packages that you "cook" by warming them in a skillet for 10 minutes. The mind-bending juxtaposition was analyzed deeply by food journalist Michael Pollan, in his New York Times piece, "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch." He asks, "How is it that we are so eager to watch other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to brown them ourselves? For the rise of Julia Child as a figure of cultural consequence . . . has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food, home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home cooking."