For millions of people, one way of getting through the doldrums of pandemic lockdown was through cooking shows on Netflix and YouTube, all of which trace their origins to Julia Child, the subject of Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s next documentary, “Julia.”
After directing the Oscar-nominated “RBG,” Cohen and West traveled to France to talk with chefs and contemporaries of Child from her days of training at Le Cordon Bleu before becoming a TV star with “The French Chef.” In an interview with TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman at the Toronto International Film Festival, Cohen and West discussed how COVID-19 hit right as they finished filming and how the experience of editing the film under quarantine deepened their appreciation for both Child and French cuisine.
“I don’t think we saw each other face-to-face for months but we talked every day on Zoom. We were just working away on various sections of the film and at night cooking, inspired by Julia!” West said of working with Cohen.
“The pandemic made us feel kind of more warmly towards Julia Child and the amount of love and care she took towards preparing food and her big revelation of how joyous life can be when you’re just staying in your own kitchen creating delicacies for the people that you love,” Cohen added. “Julia devoted herself first to perfecting that for herself and then to sharing it.”
Just as Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a trailblazer for women in the world of law, Child provided a path for countless female chefs in an industry dominated by men. Her warm personality and uncanny ability to demystify the techniques behind high-level French cooking made her a television star that paved the way for other female cooking hosts from Sara Moulton to Giada De Laurentiis.
But to get there, Child had to overcome a culture of sexism within French cooking, going back to her first culinary classes where she was the only woman in the kitchen. “Julia” touches on this in interviews with Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch, who became the first woman to serve as the personal chef for the President of France.
“Her description of the sexism in France was fantastic, saying that ‘cooking was a world of men,’” West said. “That was true here [in America]. Women did the bulk of domestic cooking…but many of the famous recognized chefs were men. Prior to 1963, you didn’t have middle-aged women like Julia on television telling people what to do, being authentic and making mistakes and laughing it off. So Julia really changed the world of television too.”
Sony Pictures Classics will release “Julia” in theaters on Nov. 5. Watch the full interview with Cohen and West in the video above.