I Love Lard, But...

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Last night I had my first look at Julie & Julia, Nora Ephron's movie about Julia Child and Julie Powell that opens next month, at the studios of WGBH, in Boston, the place where it all began. Or at least the television part that "changed the world," as Child's husband Paul keeps telling her she's going to do while she's trying to finish her first book. (And I got to see myself in it: to my surprise and delight, Ephron got me dressed up as an extra the day I was lucky enough to watch Meryl Streep as Julia.)

Much more on the movie closer to the time it opens, with special contributions from many of the people who helped with it. Also, I hope, a link to the video of the discussion panel I led after the screening with Judith Jones, Child's longtime editor (a character in the movie), Russ Morash, the show's original producer, and Jasper White, a great chef and great friend of Julia's.

Alas, they didn't film the reception afterward where students from a new local branch of the Cordon Bleu--the original of which is sternly portrayed in the movie--put out many sumptuous tables of desserts I learned from Julia's books: Paris-Brest, that cream-puff-dough, whipped cream, and pastry cream dream croquembouche with its conical mountain of caramelized puff-pastry balls, Gateau St.-Honore. The students had clearly gone all out for Julia, who presided in the form of a mural-sized photograph smiling benignly over the banquet. Or maybe it was Streep as Julia. As Jones herself said, since seeing the movie she's been having trouble telling which is which.

For now, though, links to the kind of story, and competition, that Julia would have dug right into: lard vs. butter vs. shortening vs. oil in pie crusts. The discussion over dessert turned to technique, the kind of discussion that would get Julia's intense attention. Sheryl Julian, food editor of the Globe and one of the numerous guests who had often cooked with Julia in her kitchen--I did too, and we all got a little teary when the kitchen, long ago ripped out of her Cambridge house to be recreated at the Smithsonian, appears at the end--told me that she'd spent much of the past week as impresario of a pie-crust competition to see which fat produced the best pie crust. I'm on the record as a lard-lover, and one of my first columns for this magazine was on mastering the technique of working fat into flour, a lifetime's work that still continues.

Sheryl's shocking conclusion: vegetable oil made the crust that won in a blind tasting. She proudly introduced me to the crust's author, Ike DeLorenzo, who was using his aunt's recipe from a label on a Wesson oil tin. Here's her introduction, here's his piece on the "impossibly easy" crust, and here's the recipe.

I really don't want to believe this. But I know what my weekend duty is. Even if I began the discussion panel by asking "What would Julia have thought of the movie?" I don't have to wonder what Julia would have done after our crust conversation. She would have driven home, changed back into pants, gotten out the flour and fat, stayed up until 1:00 or 2:00, and called Sheryl and me at 7:00 this morning, cup of coffee in hand, with her report.

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.
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