Post # 33 Bon Appetit!

August 15, 2012 at 11:02 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Who comes to mind when you hear that phrase?  I’ll give you some clues.  She would have been 100 today.  Her first cookbook took her ten years to write.  She married very late in life and was a virgin when she married.  She practically created the whole cooking-on-TV genre and the reality of the celebrity chef.  She was a spy for the CIA during WWII.  She called everyone she met “dearie”.  She was absolutely fearless in everything she did, whether it was attending Le Cordon Blue, or creating new words for her cookbook.  She was never afraid to give her opinion when asked, right up the time of her death.  She was, of course, Julia Child.

I won’t go into a long biography because there are several of those on the market, including one she wrote herself.  If you haven’t read “My Life in France” and you want to learn about the woman, I strongly urge you to get a copy.  It’s charming, it’s endearing, it’s funny, and it’s a very good read.  Even the movie “Julie and Julia” is a good time, and it launched a new surge in Julia’s popularity.  Instead, I’ll focus on those aspects of Julia Child that I like, and what I’ve learned from her.

As I said earlier, she was utterly fearless.  While in Paris, she didn’t want to be the bored American housewife with servants to do for her.  She wanted to experience the life and culture of the country.  Her husband, Paul, suggested several hobbies, one of which was making hats and got her into the creative side of her personality, but it wasn’t until she decided to learn to cook that she found her medium.  She didn’t know the language well, but immediately joined the Cordon Bleu’s class for professional chefs.  Her professor who remained a lifelong friend found her to be a quick study willing to tackle anything.

She met and was befriend by Simka Beck and Louisette Betholle who were writing a french cookbook for Americans.  Julia was brought onto the team.  Ten years later, they finally had a finished product.  Seven years after that, Julia and Simka finished the second volume.  The two books are usually sold as a set, but it was the first book that brought the attention and fame.  It recreated cooking in America.  When the book came out, America was deep in the “easy cooking” phase, as I call it.  Things were frozen and reheated.  Cans of soup were used in making dinners.  Boxes held all the ingredients for cake, just add the perishables, eggs and milk.  Mastering the Art of French Cooking brought people back to the basics.  Many people don’t know this, but in the first volume, there is no recipe for bread.

The simple fact is that in France, bread is purchased daily either at the market or at the boulangerie.  Home cooks seldom made bread because their ovens weren’t set up for it and it’s a fairly involved process.  Since it’s so cheap to buy bread, it made sense to do so.  So there weren’t any home recipes for bread making.  Julie and Simka had to cajole a recipe from a friendly baker, then learn it and master it to put it in the second book.  The primary reason they did this was that so many people in asked for it.  Many of the recipes in the two volumes were gathered from friends, or friendly experts, then standardized by Julia and the other two women.

Once the book(s) became hugely successful, she was approached by a television station in Boston with the idea of a cooking show.  It hadn’t been done successfully before, and everyone believed that Julia was the right person for the project.  Paul had retired from government service at this point and had been helping Julia with television appearances across the country for the book.  She had been giving short, five to ten minute long demonstrations and this format was what the new PBS was looking for.  Plunging in with no idea of how to do it, Julia and her producers let the show work itself.  The show that everyone thought would be a “one off” ran several years and is available in DVD and on re-runs still today.  She ended every show with “Bon Appetit!” and she meant it.

It’s funny to see how things were done and some absolutely brilliant shots of this courageous woman have been immortalized.  Flipping the omelet that misses the pan, Julia calmly puts it back in the pan and tells the audience, “Just don’t tell your guests, they don’t have to know.  They’ll love the taste.”  My personal favorite is Julia’s chicken dance, picture seen below.

Over the years, her showed changed with the times.  She branched out and taught new skills with new gadgets.  She fell in love with the food processor and featured it several times in many shows.  She brought in guest chefs and suddenly a new side of Julia was shown.  It was my favorite aspect of her personality.  She was never arrogant enough to believe that she knew it all.  She knew that she could learn something from everyone, even when that someone could have been her grandchild.  For her, learning was journey not a destination.  She allowed those guest chefs to shine, and flirted shamelessly with the men.  I’ve got a DVD where she’s working with a young, cute guy baking some babycakes and his grin tells the world that he’s getting the biggest kick out of her flirting.  Her favorite guest chef, and later cooking show partner, Jaques Pepin, could handle her wonderfully!

They were making a salad once, and he asked if she wanted garlic in it since he had some ready.  She refused saying it wasn’t necessary.  He grinned at the camera with a secretive look and twinkle in his eye, and when her back was turned for a moment, he slipped the garlic in anyway.  She finished tossing the salad, tasted it, and said it was the best she’d ever had!

She found joy in whatever she was doing, and grabbed the fun wherever it was.  Utter fearless, and always looking forward, she remained happy and cheerful right up to her death.  She passed away just two days before her 92nd birthday.  She was probably ready to join her beloved Paul.  So Julia, all I can say is, Bon Appetit!

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