July 03, 2014

Julia Child

Julia Child on the set of "The French Chef." Credit: WGBH Media Library & Archives

Guest:

She may be frequently imitated and often parodied (picture Dan Aykroyd slicing his thumb open on SNL), but there’s only one Julia Child.

So what made her such a pioneer?

“Julia was a performer who happened to know a lot about cooking. She would use silly props like giant rolling pins and knives and blow torches," says Alex Prud’homme, Julia’s biographer and great-nephew. "And she was not afraid of making mistakes…people felt very comfortable with her.”

She tried to assuage Americans' fears about cooking, encouraging her audience to try recipes at home - and not worry if the resulting dishes turned out picture perfect. “She really thought of herself as a teacher and as a student, and she was really dedicated to that idea,” says Prud’homme.

Of course, Julia didn’t start out as an expert.

When she went to France in 1948, “she had to invent herself,” says Prud’homme. “She was a self-described tall, loud, ungainly California girl with size twelve feet…but once she had lived there for six months, she realized that perhaps she actually was French, only no one bothered to tell her.”

Prud'homme says that Julia showed people that cooking could be fun. She never took herself too seriously and when things didn’t go as planned – as they often didn’t – she improvised and rolled with it.

And when things went really wrong?

During an appearance on late night TV, David Letterman once asked if she had ever cooked something that turned out awful. “Yes, lots of times," she admitted. "I give it to my husband.”

Ultimately, Julia’s ability to challenge convention taught viewers about more than just cooking. Watching her show, people learned to see the world, and themselves, differently.

Julia Child, cooking, the French Chef, Culture, television

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