Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Zen of Julia Child

The French Chef, starring Julia Child was one of those shows that was always on the periphery of my cultural knowledge, but that I'd never really watched myself, until the other day when I was instantly enchanted.

Everything about the show is delightful:  the humble cardboard cylinder of supermarket salt--no prissy lectures about how the only acceptable salt is hand-made from sea water by nuns in Brittany--her stove--she cooks on the same crappy electric coils that our mothers used.  How else do I love Julia Child?  Let me count the ways.

  • The way, at the beginning of each show, she says, "I'm Julia Child" in a way that makes you think of a girl introducing herself to others in the common room of her boarding school. 
  • The careless way she waves her knives around.  Sometimes you are certain she will slice off her own thumb, but she never does.
  • The daft badge she wears on her blouse that, in the early episodes, shifts from one side of her blouse to the other until, sometime in the early '70s, she finally committed to the left breast.
  • Her homemade sound effects:  she says, "errk" whenever she struggles with a recalcitrant sausage stuffer and "tock" every time she presses the garlic.
  • Her fruity voice, which attains ear-splitting decibels, particularly when she introduces the food topic of the day.
  • Her tendency to mishaps.  It's always a little exciting when Julia is about to unmold something or flip something.
  • The great lengths to which WGBH Boston went to avoid product placement.  Julia's cardboard cylinder of salt is covered with a roll of construction paper labeled SALT, like a kindergarten project, until, in the later episodes, they figured out it was classier to put the salt in a crock.  The wine bottles have homemade labels, so we can't see what vineyard they came from, and even Julia's pyrex measuring cup has a piece of gray paper taped over the label.
The food is beside the point.  It's good food, but pretty basic.  Americans were unsophisticated cooks in the 1960's.  The true joy in watching Julia Child is in realizing that maybe the world isn't such an awful place after all.

4 comments:

  1. I'm totally with you on this! I love watching that show. The knives! So true! Its so the opposite of the way things are on The Food Network (although, sometimes, Paula Dean reminds me a little of JC)

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  2. yes she was brilliant, a real character....in england we had Fanny Craddock........she's go to be on youtube, she deffies description!!

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  3. I never saw the original show, just some of the excerpts and parts of the Movie with Merryl Streep, but she did seem an original character. I also agree with Young at Heart, Fanny Craddock has to be seen to be believed,especially when her partner Johnnie was completely crocked. He staggereed about like a zombie with Alzheimers, and quite honestly, Fanny wasn't that much better.

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