Viewing the film of French cooking

Whether you’re the next Julia Child or the kind of person who has only mastered the art of microwave cooking, you’re bound to learn a thing or two at this weekend’s “Festival of Food and Film,” sponsored by the Yale Sustainable Food Project, Whitney Humanities Center and the Film Studies Center. At the very least, you might be doing something good for humanity.

YSFP coordinators said communal culinary events such as these could create a nation of healthy eaters and even improve our financial situation.

“Food is about community, and if everyone who shares this experience of coming together over food can share that with someone else, we’ll build a nation with healthy kids and a vibrant economy,” YSFP director Melina Shannon-DiPietro explained.

In case you didn’t know, the festival kicked off last night with a screening of “Julie & Julia” at the Criterion, followed by a conversation with the celebrity chef and longtime friend of Julia Child, Jacques Pépin.

But fear not, there’s still one more chance to get a glimpse of your favorite French chef at a cooking demonstration today at 2 p.m. in the Whitney. YSFP program coordinator Hannah Burnett ’08 revealed that Pépin will be cooking up some salmon gravlax, chicken with white wine and mushrooms, and spinach with macadamia nuts and raisins. Whip up something like that at your next dinner party and you’re guaranteed to win over your friends, or at least look pretentious to those who have no idea what “gravlax” means.

Now that you’ve mastered a few dishes, the next step in your journey toward culinary nirvana is a screening of “Babette’s Feast” at 7 p.m., followed by a panel discussion with Kim Severson and Laura Shapiro. Meryl Streep isn’t in this one, but it’s a Danish classic, telling the tale of a French woman refugee who cooks a legendary feast for two sisters and the village church community that has adopted her.

Panelist Shapiro is a well-known food writer and author of “Perfection Salad,” “Something from the Oven” and “Julia Child: A Life,” while Severson is a cookbook author and writes about food for The New York Times.

“Laura Shapiro wrote a biography on Julia Child and wrote books on the history of women in the kitchen, so we wanted her to come because she knows the recent history of the kitchen,” Burnett said. “We invited Kim Severson because she’s written about all of these subjects for The New York Times and she has a very immediate cultural presence.”

Wrapping up the weekend is a potluck picnic meal at the Whitney, where you can share your own creations with others. Though YSFP will be providing some sort of delicious sustenance for you to enjoy, Burnett strongly encourages guests to help feed the community.

“The potluck on Saturday brings the whole thing home,” Burnett said. “We’ll be providing some food, but bring food to share.”

And don’t forget Julia. The spirit of the culinary giant will be present at the picnic with clips of her cooking shows on display throughout the day.

Who knows — at the end of the weekend you might be ready to take on that daunting Boeuf Bourguignon recipe you’ve been dying to try. But remember, in the words of Julia herself, “Never apologize.”

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