Monday, September 25, 2006

And a Child Shall Lead Them

In my younger days, I looked forward to Saturdays with eagerness. It wasn't that school was out for the week –- rather, it meant a day of TV. A whole day! And after morning cartoons (watched in between chores), My Wonderful Parents took control of the dial and flipped the channel to the local PBS station.

I can't say I fully appreciated the merits of The Victory Garden until I had a garden of my own, but I loved to watch the cooking shows. And of all the televised chefs, one stood out: Julia Child, The French Chef.

Who doesn't remember Julia with a certain fondness? Her distinctive voice, her joie de vivre, her way of wielding a cleaver –- ah yes, that was the kind of cook I wanted to be, with the easy skill and vast knowledge of classic dishes. (And it didn't hurt that her height and practicality closely aligned her with the Chef Mother.)

Of course, in college, such cooking seemed too complex to be worth the bother (though I did pull off at least two memorable dinner parties that were undoubtedly influenced by dear Julia), and once I became a vegetarian, so many of her dishes and techniques seemed useless to me. That doesn't mean, however, that I didn't still admire her.

So when the book My Life in France, written by Julia with her grandnephew Alex Prud'homme, came out, I knew I wanted to read it. And what a treat! I found it fascinating that prior to her marriage to Paul Child in her mid-30s, Julia had little experience or interest in the kitchen. But when Paul was assigned to a USIS post in post-war Paris, Julia quickly developed a fascination for French cuisine and enrolled at the Cordon Bleu.

â€ĶI suddenly discovered that cooking was a rich and layered and endlessly fascinating subject. The best way to describe it is to say that I fell in love with French food –- the tastes, the processes, the history, the endless variations, the rigorous discipline, the creativity, the wonderful people, the equipment, the rituals. (p. 63)

Julia and Paul found a number of like-minded friends in Paris, and one, Simone Beck, became Julia's partner in teaching French cooking to Americans as well as her co-author on Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And thus began the career that endeared Julia Child to us all.

Julia died in 2004, but her legacy lives on in our national passion for gourmet food and the wide variety of TV chefs and the Food Network (for better or for worse, some might argue). Most important, however, is her simple belief in the attention we should give our food.

...nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should. Good results require that one take time and care. If one doesn't use the freshest ingredients or read the whole recipe before starting, and if one rushes through the cooking, the result will be an inferior taste and texture... But a careful approach will result in a magnificent burst of flavor, a thoroughly satisfying meal, perhaps even a life-changing experience. (p. 302)

Thank you, Julia, for all you taught us over the years and for helping us all appreciate good food and the work behind it even more.

Bon appétit to you, too, dear lady!

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