Julia Child’s 100th today

August 15, 2012 • 10:12 am

Julia Child was born on August 15, 1912, and died two days before her 92nd birthday. Today would have been her hundredth.  Google has celebrated it with an icon:

and the New York Times has several article, including a summary of her contributions by Julia Moskin and a nice remembrance by friend and co-chef Jacques Pepin.  She was without question an icon, and had an enormous influence on American cooking and dining.  And of course she was hilarious in an unintentional way: gangly, awkward, and with that voice.  (She was also deliberately funny.) She inspired several imitations, including Meryl Streep’s wonderful portrayal in Julie and Julia (I loved the Julia parts, didn’t like the Julie ones), and of course Dan Ackroyd’s sanguinary satire on Saturday Night Live (screenshot below, but click the link to watch the video):

A few memories I have:

  • She and her husband Paul lived very close to the Museum of Comparative Zoology, where I did my Ph.D. I sometimes saw her walking through Harvard Yard, or in Savinor’s, the gourmet grocery store she frequented in Cambridge. I remember that she was very tall—she must have been six-foot-one or so, and I was always too shy to say hello.
  • If you’re in the Smithsonian’s Museum of History and Technology in Washington, D.C., go see her kitchen: it was moved from Cambridge after she died and reconstructed in the Museum exactly as it had been in her home.
  • I was given her two volumes of The French Chef as Christmas presents by my parents, and several times cooked from them. But the labor was immense, and I was eventually defeated. I remember spending many hours making her mushroom soup for a Thanksgiving dinner (it was splendid).
  • My favorite Julia anecdote is this one (I watched her cooking shows avidly).  In her later show with Jacques Pepin, they would often make similar dishes starting out with the same ingredients.  In one they each faced an entire salmon.  Jacques proceeded to flay the skin off his fish, informing the viewers in his thick French accent that removing the skin was healthy since it contained the fat.  Julia then fixed him with a withering glare and exhorted: “Jacques, salmon is not medicine!”  Every time some health nut tells me that I am about to eat something bad for me (which I don’t do that often), I remember her imprecation.
Julia Child, photographed in her Cambridge, Massachusetts, kitchen, June 29, 1970. Photo by Arnold Newman, Getty Images.

And Julia et Paul en déshabillé!:

The couple’s 1956 Valentine’s Day card. Courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.

21 thoughts on “Julia Child’s 100th today

  1. Thanks for the wonderful tribute. I thank Julia for giving me my life-long hobby of cooking. I have enjoyed myself immensely.

  2. About two years ago my wife and I ordered the DVDs of all of the “Julia and Jacques” cooking show episodes. The day the DVDs arrived, we put the kids to bed early, poured some red wine, and watched almost all of the episodes straight through. Admittedly, we were probably a bit too excited about receiving cooking show DVDs in the mail…but they were the best kind of “celebrity” chefs.

  3. I believe the word is “sanguinary”, and I still think that Dan Aykroyd sketch is the funniest thing Saturday Night Live ever did.

  4. Julia’s The Way to Cook is a much better tome for instruction in cooking and baking. It also includes many recipes that are easier to follow. More than a collection of recipes, it is an instruction manual for operating a kitchen.

  5. About Pepin and the salmon: Don’t we now think fish fat is good for you as it’s loaded with vitamins and other nutrients that far outweigh the calories?

    I know a doctor who is participating in a study to use fish oil to help treat some kinds of mental illness.

    I have access to a lot of black drum during the winter months. I bake them whole and sop up the grease with bread. Yummy! And I like to think I am improving my brain health when I load up of fat calories this way.

  6. I’ve always had undying respect for those
    of my parents generation for their unparalleled service and sacrifice during WWII.

    I’m always amazed to learn that celebrities,
    whose talents I’ve enjoyed for years, served
    in WWII.

    Eddie Albert, Charles Bronson, George C Scott, Betty White, Nipsey Russell, Charles
    Durning, Bea Arthur, Don Knotts, Richard Boone, Burgess Meredith, Raymond Burr and Paul Newman are but a few.

    At the outbreak of WWII Julia Child attempted
    to enlist in, both, the Army and the Navy, but at 6’2″ was deemed too tall.

    Undaunted, she applied to volunteer with the
    Office of Strategic Services (the OSS – the
    forerunner of today’s CIA). Her interviewer
    noted that she left a good impression and was
    “pleasant, alert, capable, very tall”.

    She quickly rose through the ranks, achieving
    top secret clearance, and eventually worked
    directly for the head of the OSS, General
    William Donovan.

    She served with distinction, during the war, handling classified material, going on to serve in Sri Lanka and China.

    In every sense of the word, both as a patriot, and as a renown chef, Julia Child served her country.

  7. I’ve only ever made one Julia Child recipe, her “Los Gatos Gateau Cake”, published in “Julia Child and Company” and in “The Julia Child Menu Cookbook”. The recipe is quite clear that one needs a food processor, blender, and mixer, none of which I possessed at the time. Have you ever tried to pulverize filberts by crushing the sieving them?

    As Jerry says, “the labor was immense”, but as with his mushroom soup, the result was splendid. The cake received the ultimate accolade from one friend: “It looks just like the picture in the book.”

    Julia’s recipes may not be for beginners, but if you do what she says, you get the results you want.

    1. I’m so amused to read this, because in celebration of the 100th I’m making this cake right now. So far so good, though I’ve been thanking Ceiling Cat that I do have a food processor and a mixer.

      The buzzer just rang so the meringue layers need to come out!

  8. Dr. C.:

    Her most important cookbooks were:

    Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle—ISBN 0-375-41340-5

    Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two (1970), with Simone Beck—ISBN 0-394-40152-2

    I’ve used them both for years and I don’t consider them to be overly laborious, for most things. They present the real French methods (from the 1940s and 1950s at least) that can be adapted to US conditions.

    The only dish that I find partcularly laborious is the cassoulet — but it’s worth it!

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