Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Happy Birthday Julia Child

Credit: WGBH Media Library & Archives

Credit: WGBH Media Library & Archives

Today would have been Julia Child’s 103rd birthday. In my eyes, she is the greatest chef that ever lived. She taught me that cooking could be easy and fun and that is was quite acceptable to make mistakes. I watched The French Chef—her TV show on PBS—as a wee lad. It was my first foray into the world of cooking. She masterfully eschewed the extravagant trappings of French cuisine and made it accessible to the novice.  Once a week I was let into her kitchen and instructed with great spirit how to properly trust a chicken, or how to select the right lobster or on the proper techniques to make a perfect omelette. She ushered in a style of cooking that was unfussy. Things burned, got stuck or were dropped on the floor. No matter. It made her real and this resonated with me. It may sound glib but she has had a profound effect on my life. She taught me to let go of my fears, to experiment and to most of all, have fun. Julia noted that “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” I have steadfastly applied this motto to my cooking and it has served me well. Happy Birthday Julia Child. Thank you for everything that you have given me.

Did you know . . .

  • Julia had several nicknames as a child, including “Juke,” “Juju” and “Jukies.”
  • Julia’s first job after college (she graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts) was in the advertising department of the New York home furnishings company W&J Sloane. Julia transferred to the store’s Los Angeles branch but was soon fired for “gross insubordination.”
  • When she found out that she was too tall to join the military (she was 6’2″), Julia volunteered her services to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), where she helped develop shark repellent used on underwater explosives during WWII.
  • Julia’s husband Paul, whom she met while working with the OSS, took her to La Couronne restaurant that started her love affair with French food when they moved to Paris for his work.
  • “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was rejected by publishers several times before being published in 1961 by Alfred Knopf, 10 years after Julia and her French collaborators Simca Beck and Louisette Bertholle began working on the book.
  • When Julia and Paul moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, from Paris, they designed their home kitchen around Julia’s requirements as a cook, installing taller-than-average counter-tops to suit her stature.
  • Julia’s first television appearance was on a show called “I’ve Been Reading,” on a public television station in Boston. Twenty-seven viewers wrote to the station wanting to see more, and the station obliged. By the end of 1965, her show The French Chef was carried by 96 PBS stations.
  • In 1993, Julia became the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame.
  • Julia has a rose named after her that she chose herself. The color? Warm butter gold.