Julie Powell, a writer whose decision to spend an entire year cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (a project that led to, among other things, the Meryl Streep/Amy Adams movie “Julie & Julia”), has died at her home in Olivebridge, in upstate New York, at the age of 49.
Her husband, Eric Powell, said she died Oct. 26 of cardiac arrest.
Powell was born in Austin, Texas, and attended school at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Powell wanted to be a professional writer and in 2002, while working for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, she started the Julie/Julia Project, an attempt to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s formidable “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” The blog’s success — aided, in part, by a mention in The New York Times — led to a book deal and the publication of “Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen” in 2005 (the paperback edition was catchily retitled “Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously”).
Apparently Child knew of the blog and the book and while she didn’t remark on it publicly, Child’s editor said that Child told her, “I don’t think she’s a serious cook.” (Child didn’t live to see the publication of the book or the movie that it was based on.)
In 2009 the movie “Julie & Julia” was released. Written and directed by Nora Ephron (it would wind up being her last movie), “Julie & Julia” braided together Powell’s nonfiction book with Child’s autobiography, “My Life in France.” (Ephron claimed that she didn’t have the idea to meld the two books together but was very glad to get the assignment.) After the movie was released, both books returned to the bestseller’s lists.
The year 2009 also saw Powell awarded an honorary diploma from Le Cordon Bleu — the cooking school Child graduated from — and the release of her second book “Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession,” which detailed a lengthy affair and her learning to butcher at a butcher’s shop near her home in upstate New York. The New York Times, the institution partially responsible for her meteoric rise in popularity, quipped about the much darker book: “Nora Ephron won’t be touching this one with a 20-foot baguette.” Powell continued to write but “Cleaving” was her last book.