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From Julia Child to “Julie & Julia”, passing through a museum and a doodle

Spotlight on Julia Child, the woman whose recipes brought French cuisine to America, and not only…

The pioneer of preparing recipes on TV? Her name was Julia Child, and her programme was called The French Chef. It was broadcast for the first time in 1962. Julia was a naturally vivacious presenter of live cooking programmes, and she opened the door to the countless gastronomic TV series which continue to attract huge audiences today.

We all have our favourite chefs and cookery programmes, with or without the spur of competition and suspense. We agree or disagree with the verdicts of gastronomic critics, judges and food bloggers. And many of these emotions we probably owe to one woman: Julia Child.

A short history of the life of Julia Child, the American who loved French cuisine. Julia went to live in Paris at the end of the 1940s, to follow her husband, the cultural attaché at the Embassy of the United States. She soon joined the prestigious Cordon Bleu cookery school, the largest gastronomic organisation in the world. Thus began her brilliant culinary career: once finished her course, along with two other women members, she founded her own school, L’Ecole de Trois Gourmandes.

Driven by her ongoing love affair with the recipes and specialities of French cuisine, and her missionary desire to transmit that passion to Americans, in 1961 Julia Child wrote “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”: a 734-page book, weighing 1.5 kilos… To promote its sales, one day Julia presented it on a public TV programme in Boston, and cooked an omelette live.

Immediately after the programme, the channel began receiving so many appreciative letters and telephone calls that it decided to offer Julia a programme of her own, where every episode featured her teaching the public how to cook a different dish.

The French Chef, with Julia Child in her studio kitchen, was immediately a success, and before long it was being broadcasted on 96 other US TV channels.

Julia’s informal no-nonsense personality, and especially her playful approach to cooking and her infectious enthusiasm for food turned this transmission into a cult show, unprecedented at that time.

A famous example of her impromptu spontaneity came one day when, on air, a chicken she was handling fell to the floor. Julie Child laughed, picked it up, dusted it down and said to her public with a smile “that can easily happen to you too”, before getting briskly back to her cookery demonstration.

From the 1960s onwards Julia wrote numerous other cookery books, appeared regularly on the ABC show Good Morning America, became the first woman to be made a member of the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame and, in the year 2000, was deservedly awarded the Legion d’Onore.

When she decided to leave her home in Cambridge Massachussetts, to move to California, Julia Child donated her kitchen and the 1,200 objects contained in it to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, which perfectly reconstructed it and opened it to the public.

TV programmes, prizes, awards, her kitchen turned into a museum… Julie Child’s life resembles a film. And actually… it is. Called Julie & Julia, with Meryl Streep playing the title role, and directed by Nora Ephron. A film which intertwines the story of the pioneering cook with a thirty-something woman today who eventually succeeds in giving her life a meaning thanks to Julia Child’s famous cookery book, leading her to start a blog that tells the story of her challenge: to cook all 524 recipes in 365 days.

As well as changing mid-twentieth century America’s relationship with food, Julie Child undeniably became an icon, a model admired by countless desperate housewives and fledgling cooks alike. To this day, her first book is a kind of Bible to every American who wants to learn how to cook well.

So much so, that a few years ago, on the centenary of her birth, countless restaurants across the USA paid homage to Julia Child by adding some of her recipes to their menu. And Google dedicated one of its playful doodles to her…

Ladylike but also high-spirited and dynamic, a determined innovator who changed the course of history simply by her hard-working passion for food and for cookery, Julia Child was also famous for her downright and uninhibited remarks, such as…

  • “Never forget: if you’re on your own in the kitchen and a leg of lamb falls to the floor, pick it up: who’ll ever get to know about it?”
  • “I believe that every woman should have her own blowtorch.”
  • “Fats give flavour.”
  • “Before I put it in the oven, I massage my chicken with plenty of butter. Why? Well, I’d say the chicken enjoys it. But more importantly, so do I.”
  • “You don’t have to cook excessive or complicated dishes: just make good food with fresh ingredients.”
  • “Learn to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, don’t be afraid. But above all, enjoy yourself.”

You’d agree, wouldn’t you?

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From Julia Child to “Julie & Julia”, passing through a museum and a doodle
Spotlight on Julia Child, the woman whose recipes brought French cuisine to America, and not only...
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