Julie Powell, 49, Author of Julia & Julia, Dies of Cardiac Arrest

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Julie Powell passed away on October 26 at her home in Olivebridge, upstate New York. Julie Powell was a writer whose decision to spend a year cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” resulted in the popular food blog, the Julie/Julia Project, a movie starring Meryl Streep, and a new following for Mrs. Child in the final years of her life. She was 49.

Eric Powell, her husband, claimed that cardiac arrest was to blame.

A growing number of contemporary listeners were moved by Ms. Powell’s witty, piercing narration of her problems in the kitchen. The Julie/Julia Project helped create the enormous current audience for home cooking on social media and was copied by followers of Ina Garten, Thomas Keller, and Dorie Greenspan.

Ms. Powell was an aspiring author who was employed in Lower Manhattan at a low-level administrative position in 2002. She had no serious job possibilities as she approached 30. She described it as “one of those panicked, backed-into-a-corner kind of moments.” in an interview with The New York Times.

She decided to make every one of the 524 recipes in her mother’s well-used copy of Mrs. Child’s 1961 classic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1” in order to give structure to her days. She discovered the journey to be exhaustingly lengthy, sweaty, and rocky as an untrained cook who resided in a tiny Long Island City loft.

Long updates, punctuated by vodka gimlets, and entertaining, profane tirades about the difficulties of finding ingredients, the minor disappointments of adult life, and the greater difficulties of finding purpose as a member of Generation X were written by her in a blog for Salon.com that she dubbed the Julie/Julia Project. Approximately 400,000 people visited the blog overall before the year was over, according to Salon, and several thousand of them were regular readers who followed the drama of whether Ms. Powell would actually finish in time.

Ms. Powell was able to communicate with readers through blogging in a novel manner and on a cutting-edge platform. In a 2009 interview, she stated, “We have a medium where we can type in the snarky comments we used to just say out loud to our friends.”

The posting of such comments coincided with a rise in public interest in food, cuisine, and chefs. As a bridge between the authority of food writers like Mrs. Child, James Beard, and M.F.K. Fisher and the approachability of Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay, and Nigella Lawson, Ms. Powell’s self-deprecating writing style was created.

Just a few weeks before Ms. Powell’s self-imposed deadline passed, interest in her project soared after Amanda Hesser, the website Food52’s founder and former Times reporter, wrote about it. According to Ms. Hesser in an email, the Julie/Julia Project revolutionized culinary writing. She wrote, “Her writing was so fresh, spirited — sometimes crude! — and so gloriously unmoored to any tradition.”

Ms. Powell made professional food writers realize “they’d been stuck in the mud of conformity” and encouraged other amateur food writers to start cooking their way through cookbooks, according to Ms. Hesser. The ability to write about food was made more accessible by the internet, and Julie was the pioneer of the new school.

Deb Perelman started her food blog, now known as Smitten Kitchen, in 2003, and the author said of it: “She wrote about food in a really human voice that sounded like people I knew. She communicated that you could write about food even without going to culinary school, without much experience, and in a real-life kitchen.”

It’s a big loss for the cooking community.  May she rest in peace.

 

Featured Image screengrab from embedded Tweet.

 

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