Almost two decades after her death, Julia Child is back in the media spotlight, the subject of a trio of projects.
The Sony Pictures Classics documentary “Julia,” from the “RBG” team of Julie Cohen and Betsy West, was first out of the gate when it debuted on the fest circuit in September, followed March 16 by “The Julia Child Challenge” cooking competition on Food Network. The HBO Max scripted series “Julia” will arrive later this month, with Sarah Lancashire portraying the iconic chef.
In the reality show, eight self-proclaimed disciples of Child vie for the chance to win an all-expenses-paid, three-month cooking course at Le Cordon Bleu, where she studied in 1950, by whipping up their own spins on her iconic dishes.
Courtney White, outgoing president of Food Network and streaming food content at parent company Discovery, attributes the confluence of Child projects in part to her increased relevance during the pandemic, when there was a “whole wave of the population” looking for “an accessible on-ramp to get them started” on their culinary aspirations.
Child, who is credited with popularizing French cuisine, authored the bestselling cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 1961 and soon began hosting an unexpectedly successful program on PBS, disarming viewers with her down-to-earth manner. She was famously parodied on “Saturday Night Live” and portrayed on the big screen by Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia,” released five years after Child’s death in 2004.
“When we commissioned the show, we knew that the documentary was in the making. We had heard about the HBO Max scripted series,” White says, noting that at the time Food Network and Discovery Plus were developing “The Julia Child Challenge” at the peak of COVID-19 last year, “we had a flood of new viewers, new digital consumers, people who, because they were at home during the pandemic, were discovering cooking — people who had been intimidated by it before.”
The chef’s resurgent popularity is no surprise to “Julia Child Challenge” head judge Antonia Lofaso.
“I don’t think she will ever not come back,” Lofaso tells Variety. “And legitimately, to this day, her message is as relevant as it was 40 years ago. It doesn’t ever stop.”