I was about to submit my August column when I learned of the passing of Julia Child. Her “The
French Chef” show was probably the first coking show I had ever seen and it’s one of the earliest
influences that led to my interest in the art of the kitchen. Back then, when televisions came only
in one flavor – large and black & white- it wasn’t as much what she cooked that sparked my
interest but rather her demeanor and bourgeois approach to French cooking that caught my
Mind you, French cuisine back then was the most regal of cuisines prepared only by the most
pompous chefs and was enjoyed only by the most privileged class of connoisseurs.
And here was Julia, a lanky amazon of a woman with a high pitched, strange squeaky voice who
coughed in her hand – and even over the food – without missing a beat and kept on preparing
that Boeuf a la Bourguignon or drop a whole chicken on the floor, look at the camera with that
“doesn’t this happen to everyone” look and finish her Coq Au Vin.
She Changed How Americans Eat
Just as Louis Armstrong forever changed this music genre called jazz, so too did Julia change what,
and far more important, how Americans eat.
When she first appeared in the 1960’s, America was in the midst of a cultural revolution. We ate
to live rather than lived to eat. Gastronomical innovations such as the TV dinner were the rage and
fast food mega drive-inns were taking shape.
What Julia taught us was that we still need to stop and smell the roses. Though she did make
preparing French cuisine more accessible to the masses, her ultimate lesson was that a personally
prepared meal for family, friends and loved ones and the camaraderie and fellowship for the hour
or two that follows, puts the civil back into civilization more than any technological, industrial or
economical innovation ever could.
Humility at its Finest
Despite being acknowledged as the Grande Dame of cooking in America, Julia seemed to simply
shrug off any accolade as “that’s nice”. She simply wanted to be remembered as someone who
taught French cooking. That’s like saying Shakespeare was someone who simply wrote “some
stories” or Mozart was someone who simply “played the piano” or Michelangelo was someone who
simply “painted”. Despite being awarded the Legion of Honor by France and the Presidential Medal
of Freedom by the United States, she simply responded “that’s fine”. It is rare in any era to find a
person so glorified and revered yet so humble and unpretentious. A Japanese saying states that
“The rice plant bends as its grains develop.” Julia personified this with her humility.
Not Meant as an Obituary
This column wasn’t meant to be an obituary but rather as a tribute to a regular person who left an
indelible mark on mankind. Julia would have been 92 years old on Sunday, August 15th. This is
well beyond what is expected for the average person. Given that she was revered by the culinary
world and dined with a “Who’s Who” list of dignitaries and celebrities, it goes without saying that
she lived a FULL life. Rather this is a simple, everyday home chef’s way of expressing his gratitude
for Julia’s contribution to not only his world but THE world. I think I speak for generations of
Americans who despite never meeting Julia say THANK YOU for your contribution to society.
Perpetuate Her Legacy
For starters, the next glass of champagne I have will be held high to honor Julia. Years ago, I
explained to the Mrs that I would open any bottle of wine I had in storage if perchance, Julia
Child stopped by the house. I just felt that this was one person who deserved this honor because of
her contribution to mankind, society and civilization. Mind you, I don’t even make this offer
available to family or friends. I suggest that you find your own personal means of honoring Julia.
This may mean a simple home cooked meal with your family for bonding and companionship. It
may manifest as a full formal dinner with friends whom you haven’t seen in years. Or it may
simply be “just saying no” once to fast food and having a simple canned chicken sandwich on
toasted gourmet bread with ham and cheese ala Cordon Bleu…maybe with a simple green salad
and a glass of red wine.
I’m sure Julia would be smiling and telling you “Bon Appetit”.
A Tribute to the Grande Dame of Cooking