julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Getting to Know Julia

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“Some people like to paint pictures, or do gardening, or build a boat in the basement. Other people get a tremendous pleasure out of the kitchen, because cooking is just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing, or wood carving, or music.” – Julia Child

I vaguely remember seeing Julia Child on TV when I was a young girl. I would come home from elementary school and join my mom in the living room to watch our favorite afternoon programs, like Justin Wilson’s Louisiana Cookin’ and The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross (whom we affectionately referred to as “the Painting Maniac”), and every now and then Julia would find her way onto our television set.

Justin Wilson

Wilson’s Cajun drawl was relaxed and his grandfatherly demeanor was inviting. Ross’ voice was soft and patient, and his gentle tone was soothing. Julia Child, on the other hand, made me a little … well, uncomfortable. She was a towering woman, looking worn from life and seeming a little awkward, and her signature operatic voice was somewhat disconcerting. Frankly, Julia Child scared me.

Growing up, I certainly knew of her and her various projects (famous chef, author of cookbooks, host of TV shows) but I didn’t really know much about her. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that until I was 15 years old I thought her name was Julia Fairchild (that was one embarrassing game of hangman, let me tell you). I saw her kitchen in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. and knew she was important to the cooking community – I just didn’t grasp the significance of it all.

Bob Ross

And then I saw the movie Julie&Julia, and my interest in this larger-than-life woman was piqued. It’s easy to become enamored with Hollywood’s romanticized version of a real-life person. The Julia Child I saw in the movie wasn’t scary or intimidating. On the contrary, she was lovable and daring…and funny! And she single-handedly revolutionized American home cooking. After the movie was over, I had to know just how accurate this portrayal really was. Who was it I liked – Julia Child or Meryl Streep as Julia Child?

Bracing myself for disappointment, I began to do some research on my own – and only had to go as far as an early episode of The French Chef to confirm that it was indeed the real Julia that I loved. Unlike the Julia Child I had seen as a girl, the woman in this early show was young and lovely, fresh and new. Donning her signature pearls and Ecole des 3 Gourmandes patch (worn in honor of her first cooking school in Paris with friends Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, a gesture I find particularly endearing), Julia was always cheerful and never predictable, and I instantly admired her ability to quickly recover from the occasional mishap. Whether it was a handle falling off a fry basket in a vat of 400º peanut oil (“Hm…how am I going to get that out of there?”) or the infamous pancake flip gone awry (“You can always pick it up. When you’re alone in the kitchen, whooooo is going to see?”), she always took everything in stride and never let the unexpected catch her off-guard. As one critic wrote, “Each program had about it the uncertainty of a reckless adventure,” and yet – if you ask me – that was the beauty of the show. The not knowing what would happen next, the “real-ness” about her that reminded us it was okay for things to fall apart in the kitchen. In the end, none of it mattered – as long as you loved what you were doing and were fearless about it.

Julia Child

Even when she struggled to find the words to express her thoughts, groping for ends of sentences, her passion for teaching and for cooking seemed to radiate off the screen (even in black and white). By the end of the 30-minute program I felt that I was right there, sitting at her kitchen table like we were old friends. I wondered if she was this easy-going and likable when the cameras stopped rolling, and learned through an interview with the Christian Science Monitor’s TV critic that, “She is the only television personality I have ever known whose manner is the same off-camera as on.”

There’s nothing I don’t like about this woman, and in all honesty, I think we could have been great friends had we met in 1963 (although we never could have shared clothes… she stood an entire foot taller than me). From her positive outlook on life to her loving relationship with her husband, I am somewhat smitten with Julia Child and hope to honor her memory throughout the duration of this project. I believe I have a strong understanding of what she was all about, both in the kitchen and in life. When it came to learning how to cook, Julia said, “You learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simple or luxurious. Then you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.” It just so happens that that’s what this site is all about. In taking her words to heart, I’ll do my best to live up to her standards and make her proud.

Bon appetit!

– Jessica

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One Response to “Getting to Know Julia”

  1. Melody says:

    O.M.G. Did you even KNOW that I have a “Happy Trees” t-shirt??

    I am soooo wearing it to the next rehearsal!

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