As you can see, this is not one of our usual “Famous Dinner Scenes.” Imagine for a moment putting this colorful lady stage-front in a restaurant. There is a missed opportunity right there. Make a selection from the menu and Julia Child prepares it before your eyes, commentary included. We would have paid top dollars for that dining experience, wouldn’t you?
Julia Child enrolled at Smith College, Massachusetts in 1930. Her dream at that time was to become a writer. She later held a position as a copy writer for a prestigious home furnishings company, from which she was subsequently fired due to “gross insubordination.” Clearly, she was already marching to her own tune.
Her career path is a feast in itself, from being a typist for the Office of Strategic Services, Washington, to the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris. In 1951, she and two Paris chefs began giving cooking lessons to American women traveling or stationed there. The trio tested and recorded recipes, which Child translated from French to English for the American market.
Julia would be 101 this month (August 15). We thought we’d pay her homage. She has shaped the modern history of food perhaps more than any other chef, partly because her career marked the history of television and transformed our concept of home cooking. Come to think of it, how many more generations will relate to such household terms as “television” and “Julia child?”
And here is another thought: Julia Child’s live TV show aired for the first time on February 11, 1963, long before the terms “reality TV” existed, yet this is precisely what she was doing, isn’t it? Live TV meant there was little room for error, but if you have ever had a glimpse of Julia Child, you surely know that she had the poise, grace and sense of humor to face any unforeseen situation.
“One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed,” she said. But our favorite one by far is this: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
In a 1966 article, Time Magazine used these words when referring to Child; “Our Lady of the Ladle.” While this may have the airs of a tongue-in-cheek appellation, it was in fact a respectful analogy. Julia Child was known for her grace. She did not personify the typical “lady of the house” or woman toiling at the stove to feed her family. She wanted anyone who happened to be at the stove to dive in wholeheartedly, to experiment, to grow fearless, to be free and creative and daring, not a slave. She wanted to convey they art of food transformation and the pleasures of a good table. Cooking absentmindedly, one eye in a cookbook and the other on the measuring cup, was simply not in her book.
She was the personification of the true epicure, who cares deeply about a meal fashioned with expert attention, but also with awe every step of the way. “Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should,” she believed.
It is nearly impossible to decide which parts of her life and career to highlight and which to set aside for this brief article. If you are interested, there is a detailed and very well documented account of her journey on Wikipedia.
To sum this all up, we send cheerful “Happy Birthday” thoughts to the one who announced, “I think every woman should have a blowtorch.” Enjoy this delicious television moment with David Letterman.