Julia Child: Cooking With Flair
Just as there are basics which must be mastered in order to succeed as a cook, there are some skills that are now performed better by mechanical aids. Although Julia Child makes her own bread, she prefers to use a dough hook attached to a commercial-size mixer to do the kneading. “Some people go on and on about how necessary it is to knead bread by hand, to get the feel of it through their fingers, up through their arms, and down their spines — as if their soul is more important than their taste. I use every mechanical aid possible to make cooking easy.”
But she also accents basics like careful shopping for economy and quality and keeping fresh foods fresh. (“Never refrigerate a tomato; it stops the sugar process. You can’t ripen a fresh pineapple; it will get softer but never ripen from the day it’s harvested; pick it carefully at the fruit store.”) And she does insist on presenting things with a flair.
In surely what must be an all-time film classic — as understated as the best of Charlie Chaplin — in the mid-1960s millions watched her show fascinated while she absently fondled a suckling pig under one arm as if it were some strange house pet, cleaning its snout and ears with a towel, brushing its teeth. And all the time, straight on camera without the glimmer of a smile, she talked about the steps it takes to prepare a whole pig for the oven. Her performance convinced us it is a common thing to do for a special occasion, that the satisfaction to be had from eating roast suckling pig will be staggering if one is only willing to follow her simple lead.
Ruth Lockwood, her producer now for the past 12 years, says, “Julia wants to show you how to do things properly. And if something goes wrong — which it does from time to time with all of us — she wants to make you feel confident enough to correct it. She wants to help other cooks eliminate the worry and fear of failure.”
One result of this demystifying process and of exposing the art of good cooking to a mass audience is that Julia Child has put fun and satisfaction back into the American kitchen.
“The kitchen should be the core of the home with a lot going on in it all the time,” she says convincingly. “The way to get people involved with each other is to involve them over food. Good eating and good company are marks of civilized living, don’t you agree? Without them we’d all be savages.”
For her work and pleasure Julia Child collects kitchen tools — a wall of heavy copper pots and pans, pegboards where each artifact hangs in its assigned place handy to an appropriate work area, drawers and cabinets organized with kitchen gadgets that combine the old and new. A food processor and a durable mixer stand at strategic points near electrical outlets behind the counter.
In the basement storage area there is even more. Now that her latest series of televised cooking lessons for Boston’s Channel 2 has been wrapped up, the familiar equipment has been transferred to the cellar, where it will be handy for another cross-country tour to promote her latest book, the one she’s working on, Julia Child and More Company.
She is a professional cook who has the right tool for the right job, but she is also an unselfconscious performer who does everything with a flair and never seems to be at a loss when the unexpected happens. In fact, she is so well fortified with technical cooking skills that she seems to welcome the unusual, and always turns it to her own advantage, as if saying to her audience, “This is part of it. It happens to everyone. Now let’s see what we can do about it.
“Of course there are slips, dishes that don’t come out as expected. But when you master the technique, you can learn to correct mistakes and even live comfortably with them. If the sauce is too thin, thicken it. If the Hollandaise is lumpy, dice up hard-boiled eggs to justify the lumps. If the mousse fails, turn it into a delicious soup.