Julia Child would have been 100 today. Child, who's name is synonymous with French cuisine and uber-long cookbooks, wasn't even into food until she and her husband, Paul Child, moved to France when Child was in her mid-30s. It was Paul who appreciated food and, luckily for all of us, he shared that love with his larger-than-life wife.
After that, there was no stopping Julia Child.
In a time when a woman's place was in the home kitchen, not the commercial one, Julia Child studied at the famous Le Cordon Bleu and went on to write/compile the classic Mastering The Art of French Cooking with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle in 1961.
Though never possessing the Hollywood standard of beauty, Child landed a
cooking show on public television in 1963 and continued to work in the
medium for nearly four decades. It could be said that Child was the
first "celebrity chef."
I grew up watching Julia Child. I remember trying to imitate her accent while she stuffed chickens, diced strange (at the time)
vegetables like zucchini and turnips, and sauteed onions. My mother,
being a child of the 50's, thought it unseemly for a woman or
girl to cook. Women had fought hard to get out the kitchen and take off the apron and, to her, Child was just setting the cause back a few decades. To my mother, the cliche was true -- the only thing to
make for dinner was reservations.
When I picked up a cook book at the book store (I was a
voracious reader and had a weekly book allowance), my mother
asked me to put it back, saying that cooking was a "slippery slope".
At the time I was about seven and didn't know what "slippery slope" meant. My father
lobbied that I should be allowed the cook book and I went home with my
prize. It certainly wasn't Mastering The Art of French Cooking, but it
was good enough for a kid. I remember the first thing I cooked by myself
was "egg in a hole", that gourmand treat where you fry an egg inside a piece of bread. I quickly progressed to chili, soups, chicken
dishes, and pastas. I continued to watch The French Chef and, as
time progressed, I grew to realize that the large woman with a funny
accent also had a wicked sense of humor. Julia Child was often hilarious and, it
seemed, sometimes a little drunk.
She was also fodder for many skits and jokes, most famously when Dan Aykroyd portrayed Julia on Saturday Night
Live. But Child always seemed in on the joke. "Yes," she seemed to say,
"I'm a large awkward woman that speaks with a lilting accent. Go ahead
and poke fun. I do it, too."
And that was Julia Child's secret. Her laugh. She received joy through
food and gave us joy when we realized we could achieve beautiful results
if we followed her. And we did for over four decades. Julia Child is
gone, but her recipes, her lilting voice, and her laughter live on.
Here, by the way, is the classic Saturday Night Live skit. Julia Child herself, was rumored to love Dan Aykroyd's imitation.
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And here's a wonderful mashup of Julia Child moments, set to the tune of Sweet Child of Mine. Somehow, it works. I especially love when she says, "We're having four vegetarians for dinner. Well, we're not eating them. I have to cook for them." Happy birthday, Julia.