This past week I went with my wife “Julie” to see the movie “Julie & Julia” at a Chicago area theater. The film stars Meryl Streep as the legendary TV chef Julia Child and Amy Adams as foodie blogger turned author Julie Powell. In a nutshell the movie follows Julie’s growing success as she blogs her way through every recipe in the cookbook Mastering The Art of French Cooking, authored by Julia Child and associates. The story of Julie Powell blogger extraordinaire is juxtaposed against biographical flashbacks of Julia Child’s life in France as she explores her love of cooking and tackles the seemingly endless task of writing a comprehensive cookbook intended to teach average American housewives the art of cooking in the French style.
I enjoyed this movie as much as the next guy. In fact the multiplex theater was just about full to capacity. I was impressed to see that it seemed to appeal to a fairly diverse group of folks. Ratio of male to female was roughly 50/50 skewing a bit toward the female demographic including preteen and teen aged girls who were apparently there with their parents or grandparents. For the purpose of this article I will limit my review to this. A thoroughly enjoyable film particularly for those interested in food, or Julia Child punctuated by what is likely to be another Oscar nominated performance by Ms. Streep. Amy Adams was completely engaging and adorable as Julie Powell and kudos to Stanley Tucci who made the small role of Julia’s husband Paul, sensitive, memorable and amusing.
Now what I really want to talk about are the business lessons that might be derived from this movie as it explores these two successful women. The end result we all know is that Julia Child lived a long life and is remembered as a successful television teacher of French cooking. Julie Powell as we now know is a celebrated author and blogger whose business experience has just been made into a major motion picture with a world class cast. Wow wouldn’t you like to say that? Did either of these accomplishments simply happen by lucky accident? What makes them different from you or me? That is what I want to comment on.
The right content delivered by the right medium at the right time. Both Julie and Julie were sellers of information. Neither of them produced a product per se. Yes they might offer a book or TV show or blog but those are the vehicles that make the intangible, tangible. The real product is the message or the information. Indeed the entertainment they provided.
For both Julie and Julia it was a matter of whether anyone was interested in what they had to share. For Julie Powell who was an aspiring writer with nothing to write about and no publisher or literary agent, the right idea appears to have been the idea to write a blog. Unlike traditional publishing, blogs are timely and require no permission from anyone. You simply put yourself out there. Now many of us have done that or are doing that with perhaps not as much success as Julie, but that is what we want to explore. For now the message is, blogging seemed to be the right medium at the right time. Additionally I would suggest that blogging about food was also the right subject at the right time. Television today is inundated with home improvement, fashion and food shows. This is a trend that had been developing for several years. Julie started her project at the beginning of the curve and was able to ride it to the very zenith.
In regard to Julia Child, she also was in the right place at the right time. She began her food career in France with her husband who was in foreign service. What better place to learn French cooking then in France. The fact that she studied there and lived there I am sure gave her credibility with her American readers, publishers, producers and audience. Also, she was teaching French Cooking just after World War II when a good deal of the American population had recently completed an all expense paid tour of Europe compliments of their Uncle Sam. This experience broadened palates and created a market willing and anxious to try new cuisines and explore new cooking techniques. This was further enhanced by an era which celebrated the housewife as a professional. Dad went off to the office and Mom became the very CEO of domestic arts. American companies were churning out record numbers of durable goods such as stoves, refrigerators, microwaves, and every manner of convenience products and labor saving appliances for the home chef as post war production ramped up to meet the demand of America’s growing families. Saving labor meant more time to explore more complicated recipes and cooking techniques. And you don’t want to cook the same old stuff on your new fangled equipment. New appliances called for new things to cook. Finally, Julia ran headlong into the television generation. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Television in the early days, like blogging today, had a comparatively low barrier of entry. Yes you needed expensive broadcasting equipment but those with the equipment needed content even more. If you had expertise there were broadcasters willing to give you a shot. Since nobody had TV experience the playing field was level. It seems the right content at the right time, utilizing the right delivery medium is one key to successful information selling.
Creativity is not the only path to success. One thing that struck me in this movie is that Julie and Julia found success doing fairly simple things. Julia Child’s success was based on essentially interpreting French cuisine which was previously considered to be complex and out of the reach of the average home cook. She did not invent a new way of cooking. She did not necessarily invent new recipes or techniques. She took something that already existed and used her communications skills to explain it to a new audience. In fact Julia’s mission was to write a book for women who did not have domestic servants. She did this first by writing a French cookbook in English presented at a level that was within the grasp of the average homemaker. This was information she learned at the Cordon Blu Cooking School and from her book collaborators. Julia later took this a step further reinterpreting her cookbook for a television audience, showing them step by step how to make the perfect Duck L’Orange or Beef Burgenion. I personally have relied for years on Julia’s crepe recipe and she patiently taught me via public television how to make a perfect omelet. Julia did not invent the omelet she perfected the art of communicating how to cook an omelet.
Julie Powell did exactly the same thing. Julie took what Julia had written and reinterpreted it for yet another audience. Julie made Julia accessible to a new generation by communicating to them using the current medium of choice – a blog. She did not write a novel. She did not invent anything new. What she did was take her readers figuratively by the hand everyday on a journey with her through the Julia Child cookbook. She did what many people would like to do – cook every recipe in a cookbook and see how they taste. Experience the thrill of combining ingredients until they take on new characteristics and merge into a unique culinary identity. She did this consistently and passionately. Julie invested her time and used her communications skills so that her readers could experience vicariously how to “murder a lobster.” Perhaps some were inspired to try a recipe and related techniques themselves but for many witnessing the journey was enough.
Passion sparks inspiration and results in perspiration. It appears that one’s passion is not always evident to an individual. Both Julie and Julia were inspired by passion. Interestingly for Julia, cooking was not a life long love. The movie eludes to the fact that she enjoyed eating food but cooking came later in life. She was 37 when she enrolled in the Cordon Blu School in Paris much to the dismay of the school’s director who showed her no encouragement. Her journey from then on was arduous. She had virtually no success for a long time. Her cookbook took years of work, banged out on a manual typewriter and was initially turned down by the publisher who had promised to publish it because it was too long. Ultimately it was published and enjoyed moderate success. Ironically it finally made the New York Times best sellers list in August 2009, about five years after Julia’s death and nearly 50 years after its introduction. What seems like an overnight success rarely is. Julia was over fifty years old when she began her television career. But she found something she loved, something she was good at and something she passionately wanted to share with others.
Julie Powell’s passion was writing but she had no idea what to write about. Her passion for writing combined with Julia Child’s passion of French cuisine sparked an inspiration. What is also evident in this movie is the fact that you cannot be successful on passion alone. Success takes hard work and perseverance. Julia struggled to get her manuscript completed. Julie struggled with her commitment to blog on a daily basis and complete the cooking of over 500 recipes in 365 days. It put a strain on her personal relationships and her own sanity but your love of what you do is what sustains you through the difficult time. That is why passion is important. Passion motivates you and inspires those around you to want to help you succeed but it is not a detour around the hard work.
What is your passion? What are you good at? Can you communicate it to others? Is it timely? Is it simple? What is the appropriate communication medium for your message? Are you willing to put in the hard work? Are you ready for success?
In the end we all know of Julia Child’s success and the film gives us a glimpse of how it came about. Julie at the beginning feels she is not an author though she loves to write. Her blog is a big success and ultimately provides her an opportunity to write her own books and become a bona fide published author. As if that’s not enough she gets a movie made about the experience. How cool is that?