On this date, 100 years ago, Julia Child was born. She passed away in 2004, but the chef, cookbook author and television personality has left a huge impression on cooks all over the world. Today on Food Matters, I shared a few thoughts on the woman who is still influencing the way we cook and eat.
I hate to admit it, but I think the first time I became aware of who Julia Child was came courtesy of a hilarious parody of her performed by Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live back in 1978. This was long before I really got into cooking, but somehow I knew Julia was important if they were doing a parody of her on Saturday Night Live. That segment involved a lot of fake blood squirting all over the set as Aykroyd as Julia kept trying to cook after cutting her thumb. I just found out recently that the whole bleeding thumb hilarity was based on a real event when Julia Child and fellow French chef Jacques Pepin were preparing for a TV appearance on the Today show when ten minutes beforehand Julia sliced a huge chunk out of her thumb, but insisted on going on. And that insistence on carrying on was part of her charm, right from the beginning of her first clunky black and white shows on PBS in Boston in 1963. These shows were aired warts and all, whether or not the omelet missed the pan when she flipped it or the soufflé fell when it came out of the oven.
Clunky or not, Julia’s shows were groundbreaking in the grand scheme of cooking on TV…that first series of The French Chef won Peabody and Emmy awards, including the first Emmy award for an educational program. Julia’s audience in those few years reached so many more people than she did with her first cookbook published in 1961, which took many years to produce, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. When Julia Child started teaching people how to cook on TV, it was a time when convenience foods were all the rage in America. The post-World War Two era was when the North American industrial food system really started to blossom with wartime chemical weapons producers now making fertilizers and developments in food technology meant much more food available in cans and in frozen packages. This went directly against everything Julia Child had learned while living in France after World War Two about fresh and seasonal…although she does acknowledge the new world of cooking in her earlier books by saying it’s okay to use frozen vegetables in some of the recipes.
The early books are very traditionally French, and despite being very clearly written and very instructive, not exactly the style of food I enjoy cooking; especially the ones loaded with cream and butter, but for the show today I did make Julia’s classic Coq au Vin from her 1975 cookbook, ‘From Julia Child’s Kitchen’. And I did take a short cut by using frozen, peeled miniature onions instead of taking the time to peel 20 or 30 fresh ones.
While the cuisine she became famous for teaching us how to make isn’t exactly in style today, the celebration of her achievements started in earnest in 2009, Mastering the Art of French Cooking became a best-seller then, mostly because of the very popular movie called
Julie and Julia, starring Meryl Streep in a fantastic portrayal of Julia Child…my only problem with that movie was the Julie part, the story of the blogger trying to cook every dish from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I just wanted to know more about Julia. Right around the time the movie came out we also got to read Julia’s autobiography, My Life in France, written with her nephew Alex Prud’homme, which I found very enjoyable. Now people are taking advantage of this one hundredth anniversary of her birth with celebrations, some including fundraising dinners for the Les Dames d-Escoffier association.
Here in Victoria those dinners are being held at Zambri’s, The Fairmont Empress Room, Gatsby’s Mansion and the London Chef. To get more Julia, there is a new biography including great detail of her early years written by Bob Spitz, called ‘Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child’, but I have to say I really love the autobiography called ‘My Life in France’ she wrote with her nephew just before she died. And you know what? The Coq Au Vin was delicious, and I would definitely make it again. To listen to my column from today and see what guest host David Lennam thought of the Coq Au Vin the audio will be posted tomorrow on this page.
In the meantime, we are continuing our contest with a chance to win a pair to tickets to the Vancouver Island edition of Feast of Fields coming up in September. We want you tell us about your favourite Vancouver Island farm. It can be farm you’ve been to at a previous Feast of Fields, or one that you visited as a child, or go to now as part of your efforts to support local farmers. Heck it could even be your own farm. Just go to the bottom of the comments at the bottom of this blog posting and tell us where the farm is and why you like it so much. One paragraph would be plenty. We’ll choose a winner from the entries.