Julia Child's kitchen is preserved at the Smithsonian Institution; she was the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute of America's Hall of Fame; in August 2009, the story of her life came to the big screen. And what a generation of Americans who grew up watching The French Chef on television in the 1960s remembers most about her is the joy she brought to cooking.
Born in 1912 in Pasadena, Calif., Julia moved to Paris with her husband, Paul, in 1948. While Paul worked at the American embassy, she struggled, like many women of her generation, to find something meaningful to do. Once she settled on learning to cook, she never gave up.
After graduating from a year-long course at L'Ecole du Cordon Bleu, she collaborated with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle on the first of two volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published in the United States in 1961. Julia began promoting book sales on Boston's public broadcasting station when the Childs returned to the States. From the first omelet she whisked together in a copper bowl and cooked on the show, Julia was a hit. The station signed her up as the host of "The French Chef" series, and the legend was born.
Like many high-profile personalities—from presidents to pop-stars—Julia was lampooned by Dan Ackroyd on Saturday Night Live, a segment so widely talked about and later circulated on YouTube that a bleeding, absent-minded buffoon is how many people know her. And with the release of Julie & Julia, there may be another generation who knows Julia only as portrayed by Meryl Streep.
But there was much more to the towering 6-foot 2-inch woman than cookbook author and teacher, slapstick caricature and big-screen icon. Known for her sense of humor, she reminded viewers, "You are alone in the kitchen, and no one can see you," as she replaced a potato pancake in the pan after she flipped it onto the countertop during a taping. And on more than one occasion, she revealed the secret to her longevity: "Red meat and gin."
She was unapologetic as she wrote in Mastering's introduction: "This is a book for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children's meals, the parent-chauffeur-den mother syndrome or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat." And that's the thing to remember most about her—the joy she had in producing something wonderful to eat.
By Candace Floyd, Relish food editor.
Julie & Julia: The Movie
Julie Powell and Julia Child never met in real life. But Hollywood brought them together in Julie & Julia, the movie based on the memoirs of both women. Amy Adams plays Powell, who spent a year making all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, chronicling the experience in an online blog. Meryl Streep is Child, whose autobiographical My Life in France describes her beginnings as a chef, author and television personality who introduced America to the delights of French cuisine in the 1960s. Writer-director Norah Ephron parallels the two stories, even though they happen nearly half a century apart, in a way that shows how both women "found themselves" through journeys of culinary discovery. Adams, familiar to moviegoers from her recent star turns in Enchanted, Doubt and Night at the Museum, donned a perky brown wig to play Powell. Streep had to overcome a more significant physical challenge for her part in Julie & Julia: She's a good eight inches shorter than Child. But Hollywood always finds a way—in this case, high heels and low camera angles!—Neil Pond, American Profile