NEW YORK (Reuters) - Before reality television cooking shows, celebrity chefs, counting calories and the organic food movement, Julia Child revolutionized the way Americans thought about food in the 1960s.
Now the legendary American chef, author and television personality is immortalized on the big screen in the movie "Julie & Julia" where her virtual influence extends across time to a New Yorker whose life is forever changed by cooking all 524 recipes in Child's seminal cookbook in one year.
The movie, starring Meryl Streep and opening in the United States on Friday, marks how far U.S. cooking and culinary culture has come since Child began her groundbreaking first TV cooking show "The French Chef" in 1963.
"Julia Child really did change the whole thing," Streep said, recalling how Child introduced French Cordon Bleu cooking to an America more used to canned corn, ravioli, baked beans and French fries.
"This is how we ate," she said. "Julia changed the way people thought about cooking."
Directed by Nora Ephron and also starring Amy Adams, the comedy-drama is Sony's big summer box office hope in a sluggish entertainment economy.
The movie is adapted from two memoirs -- "My Life In France," written by Child about learning to cook while living in Paris with her diplomat husband, which led to the writing of her 1961 cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", and the modern day story of blogger Julie Powell.
Powell turned her popular blog where she wrote about cooking Child's recipes into her 2006 paperback memoir "Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously."
"It was a cookbook that was so accessible for people who thought all they can do is open a can of mushroom soup and put it over potatoes," Ephron told reporters of Child's cookbook.
Child's quirky individuality that included a 6'2" frame, a high-pitched voice shown in her trademark TV show sign-off "Bon Appetit" and a passion for the art of cooking is something lost on today's TV shows with flashy camera angles that treat cooking like a sport, Ephron said.
"It just gets hysterical watching it and yet you just love it," Ephron said about Child's award-winning show, which ran for 10 years.
"Before or since there has never been a person like her," she added.
Book sales of Child's books are expected to get a boost from the movie. Random House imprint Alfred A. Knopf said it expects to sell up to 200,000 extra copies of Child's cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" this year.
Early reviews of the movie have been mixed. Variety noted that while Streep's "delightfully daffy" turn as Child is not matched by the quality of the overall film, it "should still yield tasty returns for this self-satisfied foodie fairy tale."
But Powell, who never met Child before she died in 2004 aged 91, said audiences who are not gourmands could still learn from her refreshing feminist sensibilities and infectious "joie de vivre."
Child did not release her first cookbook until aged 49.
"It is about teaching us to be brave and to jump into things," she said.
Editing by Mark Egan and Phil Stewart