All for Julia

There was a nice piece in the Washington Post today on the National Museum of American History’s re-opening of one of their best exhibits: Julia Child’s television kitchen. I had no idea how moving the exhibit would be before I visited in the mid-2000s. I’ve seen only a few episodes of her show and a dozen or so more of clips from YouTube. I’ve read much more from and about her than I’ve seen on screen (the rather regrettable “Julie & Julia” book and film aside). But her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was the first serious cookbook I owned. That and her other writings showcase her trademark wit and spirit. Uncompromising yet utterly accessible; learned yet devoid of pretension – and of course, funny as hell. The Smithsonian exhibit is strangely mesmerizing. You stand there and think, “In this tiny space a most unlikely woman changed the way we ate.” So cool.

Bonus: The Post is hosting a live chat on Julia Child, the exhibit and other associated topics tomorrow at 11am CST.

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Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

13 thoughts

  1. We’ve watched a bunch of her shows (Joanna’s parents lent us the full set), and found them wonderful. Just as you said, so entertaining, so valuable, so devoid of BS. Would really love to visit that exhibit. Happy Birthday, Julia.

  2. They replay some episodes of “The French Chef” on The Cooking Channel sometime and they are so much better than pretty much any other cooking show ever. She’d take just one dish like a bouillabaisse and spend the entire show on it. Really great stuff…funny, informative, entertaining. It’s easy to see how she inspired a generation of women to cook.

  3. I worship her. I can’t claim that she taught me how to cook, but more that her books taught me what good food should taste like. There have been 3 DVD sets of her classic “French Chef” shows issued, and I own them all. Once you’ve seen Julia kill a lobster on live television, nothing in the kitchen will ever scare you again. Her attitude always was to jump right in and do it, and even if you make mistakes, you’ll have learned something along the way.

  4. Michael, that’s a good point I didn’t mention. She empowered people above everything else. For at least a generation before she hit the tv screen, people (okay, women mostly) were told that everything to do with food should be as easy as possible. The message was: “Doing it any other way is just too hard for you.”

    But no one feels better about themselves after accomplishing something easy. “TV dinner” trays are quick*, but Americans just filled that extra time with stupid shit anyway. It’s when you venture outside the comfort zone and succeed – to a greater or lesser extent, as the case may be – that you start feeling your oats.

    Her recipe for gratin dauphinois was that dish for me. Involved, time-consuming and fraught with relative danger. But if even reasonably pulled off, mind-blowingly delicious.

    Honestly, on my list of Most Important Americans of the Twentieth Century, she ranks in or near the top ten. Her husband Paul, it should be noted, deserves more credit than he gets.

    * TV dinners (or at least that’s what we called them in our house) were fun as hell. We’d all sit around the tube and eat and watch Magnum P.I. Only the most hardened foodie would deny that to any kid. But it was fun precisely because we didn’t do it every day. It was a treat. When the lowest common denominator becomes the norm, you end up with a nation full of chubby kids with food issues. Also, Tom Selleck’s ‘stache kills trans-fats. True story.

  5. Well said, Michael & Scott. So many episodes inspired us to try something we hadn’t considered or didn’t know. It seemed/seems obvious to us just to try anything we want and not worry about it, but watching her actually helped us understand how previous generations might not have felt that way. And the willingness to make mistakes is a wonderful skill beyond the kitchen.

    It’s easy for us to take for granted the cultural changes that now allow us to even try and make a living selling fresh vegetables to home cooks, but people like Julia helped make that happen.

  6. Such great comments, Scott and Eric. I really cherish the warmhearted goofiness of her shows. It’s light years away from the fussy perfectionism of a Martha Stewart, for example, or the fakeness of any of the Food Network stars.

    I am such a wild devoted fan that I keep a copy of “The French Chef Cookbook” open in my kitchen at all times. One of my favorite passages from it is this one. On the subject of taping the shows without stopping, she said, “I would far prefer to have things happen as they naturally do, such as the mousse refusing to leave the mold, the potatoes sticking to the skillet, the apple charlotte slowly collapsing. One of the secrets of good cooking is to learn to correct something if you can, and bear with it if you cannot.”

    There’s some life philosophy in there, I think, that goes well beyond Pommes Anna.

  7. “My Life in France” is a masterpiece of steely-eyed autobiography, as well as an account of one of the great marriages of the century.

  8. A resounding YES to Frank’s rec of “My Life in France”. One of my favorite books ever! What an engaging, unpretentious, open-minded, kindhearted, and just plain FUN woman. I really did like the book “Julie and Julia”, if only for the fact that Julie indeed was inspired by the real Julia and worshiped her accomplishments and approach to cooking. The film was tepid in comparison, despite the inclusion of the cute-as-a-button Amy Adams.

    Scott, don’t know if you’re a PBS fan, but both The French Chef and Jacques (Pepin) and Julia are on steady rotation. Just do a search and dvr it. It is life-affirming that Ms. Child is still easily to be found, both in print and on television. Bon appetit!

    Christine

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