Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dinner on the Down Low

When I saw Meryl Streep in Out of Africa in 1985, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The way she delivered the line, “I once had a farm in Africa,” with her low, throaty accent, made me want to get up off the couch and plant a big wet kiss on the TV screen. It’s the only time during my formidable 80’s life that I was in love with a woman.

Out of Africa won twenty-eight film awards that year, including seven Academy Awards. Streep was nominated for Best Actress, but in an all-too-common miscarriage of Oscar justice, she lost to Geraldine Page, who played Carrie Watts in The Trip to Bountiful.

(Speaking of injustice, remember Judy Dench’s 8-second performance in Shakespeare in Love where, as Queen Elizabeth, she waltzed across a wood plank over a mud puddle and walked away with the Best Supporting Actress Award for it? Vanessa Redgrave, who turned in a stunning performance in Gods and Monsters, was the victim of an Oscar robbery that year.)

But I don’t hold grudges, and time has healed most of my bitter wounds. Besides, the 2010 Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, and guess who was on the list? Meryl Streep. For Best Actress in a Leading Role for her portrayal of Julia Child in Julie & Julia. Stanley Tucci also received a nod for Best Supporting Actor. Amy Adams was, unfortunately, not invited to the table. She’s young. She’ll have other chances.

Meryl Streep already won a Golden Globe Award for her role in the film, but this is the Oscars, and she starred in a movie about food! How freakin’ cool is that?! If you’re a foodie and you haven’t seen the movie, a) shame on you, and b) put on your mukluks and Parka and go the video store right now. Philip bought the DVD for me for Christmas as insurance in case I didn’t buy it for him. Good call on his part.

In a nutshell, the movie is based on two true stories: One about the life of Julia Child and her quest to become a respectable French Chef and write the definitive French cookbook for Americans; the other about a woman who cooks her way through Julia’s famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in one year, blogging about her experience along the way. The two stories are presented in parallel, and Julie and Julia never meet, but I became so invested in the two characters that I found myself wanting them to sit down and share a meal at the end of the movie.

After seeing the movie for the first time, I had two very strong, very different reactions. First, I fell in love with Meryl Streep all over again. Dan Aykroyd’s version of Julia Child on Saturday Night Live was awesome, but Meryl Streep was awesome and a little more believable. She was spot-on as the nutty, vulnerable, self-confident, strong Julia Child that I remember from my childhood. And she made such a daunting acting challenge look so easy. I’m pretty sure she won’t win the Oscar this year, but now that she’s at least been nominated, I'm gonna go out and buy the best bottle of bubbly I can find, which I will get totally goofy on during the Academy Award ceremonies next month.

The other reaction I had to the movie involved the Amy Adams character. It wasn’t so much that I was inspired by how she challenged herself to cook her way through Julia’s book in 365 days, which is about 550 recipes thick, in case you haven’t seen it. I was more impressed that she documented her quest by blogging about it and sharing her experience with the rest of the world. I was really taken by the idea of inviting the whole cyber world to peek in on you and share your adventure as it unfolds. I bent Philip’s ear all the way home from the movie theatre about how cool that concept was and how I wanted to do something like that. Julie & Julia was, in fact, my inspiration for starting Eating Flint and joining the ranks of what I call the exhibitionist writers.

I can only make this claim anecdotaly, but I'm pretty sure the Julie & Julia movie has created a whole new blogging genre. This quest to accomplish some task, profound or mundane, in a set period of time, usually 365 days, can be found all over the web. I’m following a blog, for example, that started at the beginning of the year called Fed Up: School Lunch Project, where a teacher in suburban Chicago is eating the daily cafeteria lunches that her students eat and then blogging about the experience. It’s sort of like the documentary Supersize Me only staged in a public school lunch room.

Local food blogs are popping up more and more as well. I’m currently following Hannah Fralik’s blog Flint Foodie. Hannah is a vegetarian who writes passionately about food, our bodies, and multiple concepts of nourishment. Emma Davis’ A Taste of Flint focuses on the food scene in downtown Flint. And Zac (I think that’s his real name) writes a blog called Pizza Time. All the Time. Check them out when you’re browsing the web. These folks love to talk about food, and they’re committed to supporting the city of Flint with their blog projects.

Beyond the plethora of food related blogs that have hit the internet since the release of Julie & Julia, another phenomenon is drawing national attention that may or may not be related to the release of this movie: The underground supper club. Often referred to as culinary speakeasies, they are, according to an article in Sherman’s Travel magazine, “a kind of professional dinner party masterminded by a talented (and often amateur) chef bringing together a group of strangers, usually in a private home.” By going underground and staging their dinners in private places, these chefs/hosts can operate without licenses or inspections. It’s really an old school idea that’s all of a sudden back in vogue.

The term underground supper club is kind of a paradox because it’s becoming the worst kept secret since Liberace’s sexuality. Just do a simple Google search for “underground supper club” and you’ll see what I mean. The allure, in part, for me is that getting a seat at one of these dinners is somewhat of a game. One supper club even has a web site with a full menu and pictures of the food. Included is a short note from the chef that reads:

“Fabulous Friends!
Join me for the Taste of Pace Underground Supperclub in Hollywood on Saturday, April 11th at 6:30. I’ll send out details for the exact address a few days before the soiree. I will be featuring a variety of delicious SoCal produce from Santa Barbara to Santa Monica and farms in between. The event is BYOW (Bring Your Own Wine).”

I’m not aware of any supper clubs operating in Flint, but I’d be the first one to sign on if one did surface. Or better yet, I could try to convince Philip that we should be trend setters and host one of our own. And to bring our little scheme full-circle, we could push for our Underground Flint Supper Club concept to be made into a movie. Sort of a 21st century twist on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? And if I invited my parents to come up from Florida to be a part of the adventure, I could move ever closer to my ultimate movie dream: Meryl Streep playing my mother and Robert Redford playing my father in the comedy hit of the year, Dinner on the Down Low. If that’s not Oscar worthy, then I don’t know what is.


  1. Two points: First, neither of those Oscar moments were anywhere near as horrible as Gladiator as best picture and Russell Crowe as best actor. Second, I don't understand the connection between strangers, private home, and needing a license.

  2. Not to get sidetracked from Meryl, but I *loved* Julie and Julia. I'd read both books and agree that Meryl should win the Oscar.

    One of my favorite scenes from the movie was the wedding scene, where Julia and Paul are on the dance floor with her sister and the sister's husband. As both couples are dancing the men shake hands, then the sisters lovingly reach for each other and hold hands. What a beautiful image of a loving family.

    Speaking of food blogs, you can Julie Powell's original blog (The Julie/Julia Project) at


  3. oh believe me, there is a true underground supperclub in Flint. Muahahahaha