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Julia Child | Cooking With Flair

“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.

“But the real key to cooking is never to apologize. Present your meal as it is. But present it with a flourish. It’s really a matter of self-preservation, isn’t it?”

Born in Pasadena, California, the eldest of three children, Julia Child admits she came to cooking relatively late. She grew up in a house similar to the one the Childs live in now. Her mother was originally from western Massachusetts, so it seemed natural for Julia to come East for her education. After graduating from Smith College, she was soon drawn to Manhattan. She dreamed then of writing for a national magazine, but took a job instead with a large department store. She says now it trained her to be a stickler for observed detail that was later reinforced when World War II broke out and she worked for the OSS in Ceylon and China. It was there she met Paul.

They were married after the war was over, and Paul Child accepted a State Department assignment in Paris. After six months of lessons at the Cordon Bleu to learn the fundamentals of cooking French style, Julia continued private lessons with several French chefs.

Her original success was co-authoring the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, two French women with whom she shared a cooking school in Paris. The massive book took ten years to prepare. When it was initially sent out to publishers, the manuscript was turned down. It was too long and did not follow a traditional pattern of presentation. Eventually in 1961 Alfred A. Knopf — still her book publisher — was far-sighted enough to take it on. It has been a cook’s bible ever since.

Then came television. And more cookbooks. She collaborated again with Simone Beck on Volume Two of Mastering. Since then on her own she has written The French Chef’s Cookbook, From Julia Child’s Kitchen, and Julia Child and Company.

Her latest series of 13 PBS programs, rehearsed and taped at Boston’s Channel 2, is “Julia Child and More Company.” It was particularly difficult for her. She worried she was running out of ideas, but insisted that each program meet her professional standards before it got her stamp of approval. The programs are tentatively scheduled to be introduced nationally in January 1980.

It will be her last for television. The venture involved 12-hour workdays, custom cooking in a production group surrounded by research staffers and assistant cooks, rehearsals with real food, critiques, still photographing, more run-throughs to perfect timing and minimize mistakes, and finally a weekly taping session. The staff worked from a loose script which left enough leeway to give her programs the appearance of spontaneity, yet each program had to be wedged into 28 minutes of air time.

Even as the series was being filmed, another phase of Julia’s work began. Her latest book, of the same title, will be published by Knopf before the release of the television series and in time for the Christmas trade. Now she divides herself between her kitchen and her typewriter, between Cambridge and New York.

In-some respects Julia Child’s 15 years of being work-oriented have taken their toll on her personally. They have not diminished her standards or her enthusiasm, but they have affected her stamina. Now, after 250 televised cooking lessons since 1963, when “The French Chef” was first aired in the Boston area and then went on to become a national passion, accumulating awards and an Emmy for Julia Child, the French Chef says she needs a rest.

The late Arthur Fiedler, for whom Julia once narrated a recording of “Tubby the Tuba” with the Boston Pops, always contended that the more you do, the more you can — that to rest is to rot. “But Arthur Fiedler was an exceptional human being. It was his way. I’m 66 years old. I want more uninterrupted time to spend with Paul. We enjoy each other’s company. I need to further my own interests and my knowledge.”

Updated Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

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One Response to Julia Child | Cooking With Flair

  1. teri gerrard August 10, 2009 at 2:14 pm #

    I can agree with Julia’s idea of using the dough hook for kneading bread now, but when I was in high school and always baking. I went to my grandmothers one weekend mad at my boyfriend, made up a lot of bread and the kneading and pounding on the bread dough really was a good anger management tool and the bread was a lot better too. Try it sometime; I haven’t made bread in sometime but since I am now unemployed it might relive my stress.

    Teri Gerrard

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