One thing few of my friends know about me, is that while cooking a meal, I often mentally give myself reminders in my best (internal) Julia Child voice. When I want to do something special, her voice lends a degree of authority and confidence to what I am doing. Watching her show today (and knowing about her spy-connected work in World War II), I consider only a powerful person who transformed cooking in the United States. From her pioneering show on PBS, entire networks have flourished.
In addition to the everyday (gourmet) cooking style she presented (even including mistakes in her shows), she recaptured the idea of cooking quality foods at home in a time when “box” foods were the wave.
Beyond just demonstrating the cooking techniques, she also had that particular voice. Although she was a California native, her voice presented as something foreign and unique. No matter how mundane her cooking seems today in that flood of cooking her success inspired, she stands unique in the history of food television.
Perhaps one overlooked trait that Child brought to television was her sense of humor. Whenever she would forget the technical word for an item, she would substitute a description, “the thing that [blahblahblah].” Her unscripted dialogue included lines that sometimes required her to bail herself out. A favorite from her “omelette party” episode was:
“Oh, here comes my mother-in-law, I’ll give her a liver omelette."
Which led to a lengthy explanation that mother-in-laws were too much maligned, but then, she did not have one herself. Too often people find humor in the datedness of the show. Stopping there misses the wit of the brilliant woman.
Maybe we have learned that we cannot cook like Julia and remain healthy, but we have to give her the props she deserved for changing the way we think about cooking at home. Many of us now have a vocabulary of cooking terms much broader than was in the American lexicon in the early 60’s when she started her show. She made us believe that we could cook gourmet meals at home, not rely on a professional chef at a restaurant. Few people have had such an impact on our culture.
The next time you eat at my house, or eat something I prepared, remember that Julia voice in my head giving me directions.