Friday, August 13, 2004

Thank You Julia Child

Everyone knows who Julia Child is. Not only a national treasure, she is a cultural icon. And though she passed away this morning just missing her 92nd birthday, her impact on American cooking will long continue. It's hard to remember a time before Julia Child. But it's not hard to see how she made a difference. Can you imagine a time when leeks were not commonly available in supermarkets? It wasn't so long ago. But on her TV programs she encouraged us to demand things like shallots and leeks from grocery stores and they complied.

In recent years we saw Julia Child in the role of host, introducing us to great chefs from all over the country. But starting in the early 1960's Julia appeared on public television, demonstrating the art of French cooking in a way that had never been done before. An unlikely TV personality, she had a funny voice, was over six feet tall and while she cooked "by the book" she wasn't afraid to let us see her make a mistake or two. She was unpretentious to the extreme, even proclaiming her preference for McDonald's french fries. When health experts expressed their disdain for butter, Julia came to its defense. Her humor and personality made her just the person to encourage us to care about food and care about cooking. She helped us to discover something she had discovered in France, and to move away from the canned, packaged convenience foods of the 1950's.

My relationship to Julia Child was like so many others, I read her cookbooks, watched her television programs and just a few months ago I got to visit her kitchen which is an exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Her personal collection of copper pots and pan is at Copia, the American center for wine, food and the arts up in Napa.

I encourage you to see the exhibit or at least visit online and hear her stories, read about her tools, see the kitchen itself. Hopefully it will inspire you, just the way she inspired so many of us.