Julia and Julie Boeuf Bourguignon? How’d Julie Powell do it?

How could Julie Powel possibly make Boeuf Bourguignon from Julia and Julie?

I finally saw “Julia and Julie”, the movie about how twenty-something home cook Julie Powell recreated 524 recipes in 365 days from Julia Child’s cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.  It’s a great movie, especially if you’re a fan of food, cooking, and Julia Child.  If only Hollywood could take over ALL cookbooks, because in Julia and Julie, every Julia Child recipe comes out perfectly on the first try for Julie Powell, a home cook with no culinary training!  She makes hollandaise perfectly the first time.  Her Spinach Souffle looks like a magazine photo on the first shot.  Hollywood makes everything easier.

I have great respect and admiration for Julia Child.  She brought high-level French cooking ideas to American households at the precise time that TV dinners and convenience foods were being mass-produced in the US.  Julia’s degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris enabled her to write these recipes because of her extensive culinary education combined with her passion for food and cooking.  In the movie, Julie Powell has no culinary education, but does have passion for food.  Is passion enough to be able to prepare every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook?  NO, it’s not.

The centerpiece of the movie is her Boeuf Bourguignon recipe.  To Julie Powell, this is the pinnacle of being able to cook like a Julia Child.  With precise preparation in her tiny kitchen, she forgetfully burns it, and having to start over,  prepares it perfectly the first two times she tried.  This is beyond credible to me.  It’s not that Boeuf Bourguignon is a particularly difficult recipe to complete, but as with all recipes, especially Julia Child recipes, there are basic cooking methods behind the recipes that need to be understood.  Following lines of a recipe without knowing the visual cues is like driving your car blindfolded, but with a road map.  You may have all the directions, but you’ll miss all the visual information necessary to know how your trip is progressing, and to know when you’ve reached your destination.

Instructions like “brown the beef 3 to 5 minutes”, “stir and toss for 3 to 4 minutes”, “wash out the casserole and return the beef” and worst of all “use beurre manie to thicken the sauce” are tremendous variables depending on your stove, pan, size of the beef, and many more potential problems for the home cook.

I went to the Knopf/Doubleday website, the publishers of Julia Childs Cookbooks to see what people were saying about Julia Childs’ Boeuf Bourguignon.


It seems that this recipe is more challenging to real people than it was to Julie Powell.  Here are 4 people’s comments:

“I followed the directions to the minute and the portion but the meat was dry and tasteless. My husband compared it to chunks of sawdust. Has anyone else had this result?”


“I just made the recipe! It turned out great!  I used the packaged “stew beef” which is much smaller than called for so I think with a thicker cut of meat….the meat would have come out juicier. As it was, I did find myself turning the heat down on the oven as the casserole was boiling quite a bit at 325. Good thing I did or the meat would have been much drier.”


“I saw the movie also, so I followed the recipe. I was really disappointed — it was not that tasty. It was okay. For the effort, frankly it was not worth it.”


Will someone “anyone” help me to decipher this version of the boeuf bourguignon recipe-which I got online?  Forgive me everyone, but after seeing the Julie and Julia film, twice, I am almost ready to pay someone to make it for me,

“To the minute…Sawdust…Boiling casseroles”?  If recipes, even Julia Child recipes, are a series of precise step-by-step instructions, why doesn’t it work for some people?

Because cooking is not like assembling a model airplane.  To create amazing meals at home, an understanding of basic cooking methods, in this case braising, is necessary.

Next post, I’ll pretend I’m Julie Powell and create Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon recipe exactly as instructed from her cookbook.  Let’s see how strictly following a recipe turns out for me.

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About Chef Todd

Chef Todd Mohr is a Certified Culinary Educator who has empowered home cooks all over the world with the reliable, dependable, repeatable METHODS behind cooking that build confidence, generate creativity and enable anyone to cook with the ingredients THEY desire.


Leave a Comment

  • Eldridge King
    11:06 PM - 22 June, 2011

    Hi Chef Todd:

    Real quick, I was looking at your archives and came across the Julia Child blog. When I was searching for instructional DVDs on how to really cook, I bought the Julia Child "The Way to Cook" 3 disc set. Although I learned some things from it and did find it entertaining (Julia was a character) your "Burn Your Recipes" and the subsequent DVD's I bought from you are SO SUPERIOR it's hard to explain.

    Her DVDs gave me some recipes, your discs gave me COOKFIDENCE and the hows and whys behind what should be done in a kitchen. In the six weeks or so that I have had your DVDs, my cooking knowledge has skyrocketed because I know what the heck I am doing instead of just following some recipes and screwing everything up.

    You have a fan for life.


    • cheftodd
      10:42 AM - 23 June, 2011

      Wow Eldridge! That might be the nicest compliment I've ever received. Comparing me to Julia Child is really humbling.

  • Steve in Manhattan
    2:28 PM - 25 April, 2010

    I made Julia's beef bourguignon last night, and I agree that you can make errors easily - thankfully my big error was correctable. My tiny Manhattan gas stove could not handle browning 3 pounds of beef in a large Le Creuset, so I pulled it off and used 3 separate pans to get the meat browned properly. I think if I'd had a commercial-grade stove, there would have been no problem. The dish turned out great, but next time I'll make a half recipe.

  • Pingback: The Worst Cook In America?

  • Terry Elisabeth
    11:11 AM - 21 December, 2009

    Well, yes, it's a movie. It is expected that they would rearrange the results and same thing with the blog. The writer does not show you everything she did and the misses, she blogs about what she got right but who knows how many times she had to start again ? Movies, blogs, books...are not the same thing as real life.

    • cheftodd
      9:54 AM - 23 December, 2009

      You're right, in my effort to satirize and make my point stronger, I've exhagerated the movie versus real life. This is my point exactly, movies are not real life. In real life, few people could make the entire Julia Child cookbook in a tiny NY apartment. I thought it was funny to make fun of it.

      I've also wondered what the total cost of all the ingredients in Julia's cookbook would be. You know how every year at the holidays, they release the cost of the "12 days of Christmas" (2 turtle doves, 5 lords leaping...) I bet it cost upwards of $20,000 to get all the tools, equipment, and ingredients to make every recipe in that book. People on TV and movies always have unlimited funds.

      Chef Todd

  • Karen
    8:26 PM - 15 October, 2009

    I agree that the original recipes can be a bit daunting, although totally foolproof and doable if interpreted with care. Check out my new blog as I cook my own way through Mastering... Cheers! Karen

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