Sunday, November 16, 2008

Julia, Bon Appetit

“I found myself staring at a fresh beef tongue, and I said to it, you ugly old thing, I’d like to fix you up!” Julia says on the French Chef.

Honest, approachable and not afraid of human error, Julia was magnetic on camera. She introduced French cuisine to the masses. Her motto was “If I can do it, you can do it, and here’s how to do it”. She was an unpretentious character with a natural humor and most importantly, she loved her craft. Julia humorously described food as senior citizens, yuniks and ugly. She was also known for making sounds effects. Unafraid to make mistakes, she took on challenges like
flipping potatoes in a pan (sometimes spilling them) and using pliers to truss chickens. Though Julia was known for casual cooking and on-camera mishaps, she was a perfectionist who took tens of hours planning and choreographing one 30-minute episode. The French Chef captured an American audience who increasingly traveled abroad, idolized the French, adored Jackie Kennedy, and were bored of Spaghetti O’s and pre-packaged foods. The kitchen soon became the heart of American homes and Julia soon became the inspiration. 96 PBS stations aired The French Chef in 1965 and Julia won her first Peabody, soon followed by her first Emmy. The Times raved and sales of Mastering the Art of French Cooking soared. With money from book royalties, Julia and Paul bought a remote home in Provence, France, called La Pitchoune (The Peach, in French). This is where the couple escaped media to work on their olive garden and to relax. Paul wrote to his brother, “How fortunate we are at this moment in our lives! Each doing what he most wants, in a marvelously adapted place, close to each other, superbly fed and housed, with excellent health, and few interruptions.” Paul and Julia would travel from the US to France. And in early 1968, Julia would find her health in jeopardy.


“Left Breast Off”
When Julia returned to Boston for a routine biopsy, doctors called for a full radical mastectomy, eliminating her left breast. Once hearing the devastating news, Julia showed strength in the presence of her worried husband. Not until she was
 released from the hospital, in the privacy of her home, did Julia weep alone in her bathtub. More bad news came when Julia and Paul heard of the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and President Kennedy from their home in Provence, Julia became more determined than ever to get back to work and finish a new cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2. Vowing to improve the edition, she confined herself to her room and worked tirelessly. After months, Julia became frustrated and resentful of the books’ efforts. Publishing deadlines were constantly pushed back and Julia expressed a yearning to get back into television. Julia then returned to PBS after four years away. Television was in color, more shows of The French Chef were produced and Julia and Paul were elated to be back in their comfort zone.


Julia’s success with Paul behind the scenes
When you watch Julia on television what you do not see is her inspiration. Paul was behind every scene, as a photographer, manager, set designer – designing the island to be tall enough for her height – revising and perfecting Julia’s shows and books. His love was in the details of every set and production. As Julia gained stardom with packed audiences and notable acclaim, Paul was having chest pains.
 During a coronary bypass, Paul suffered multiple strokes, which affected his speech and French fluency. Julia helped the only way she knew how, to keep progressing. She continued with her cooking career bringing Paul along every step of the way. While she came to his aid, she still took his advice for her career. Paul stated, “Whatever it is, I will do it” and that was the commitment they made to each other until Paul became too frail to continue. By the 70’s Julia was competing against a new breed of chefs. Young up and comers were exploring more American cuisine and the media was taking a turn from classic French fare. Julia accepted the movement and encouraged the young chefs while standing by her love of classic French food. She adapted by starring in shows called, Julia Child and Company and Julia and More Company, which would have these new comers accompany her in the kitchen. In her 70’s, Julia began a series with her good friend Jacque Pepin, called Jacques and Julia at Home. During her success, Paul was watching from a nursing home and in May of 1994, he passed.

Julia after Paul
After living in New England, in the home she shared with Paul over the years, Julia became lonely and missed the California weather. In 2001 she moved to Santa Barbra for sun, sand and tranquility. Julia’s career included over five cookbooks, and seven television series. She was the pioneer in food media and continued to star in her own shows well into her 80’s. A witty and charismatic woman, uncertain of her talents, grew from a copywriter to secret agent to culinary legend. Julia passed away two days before her 92nd birthday on August 13, 2004. Onion soup was her last meal. Her devoted audience will always remember her opera like voice and can still visit her set (complete with the same pots pans and tall kitchen island) at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. By watching Julia, we can
 all appreciate that food is meant to be enjoyed and mistakes in the kitchen make it fun.

"It's a shame to be caught up in something that doesn't make you absolutely tremble with joy." -Julia Child

Written by Brandon Johnson

3 comments:

Rebekah Peppler said...

I loved this three part essay on Julia Child. The the descriptions of her special bond with Paul and the inclusion of her hilarious, down-to-earth and fantastically opinionated quotes makes the story, and Julia herself, come alive on the page.

Scott Mermelstein said...

I found this article especially interesting in its aim. Though I knew so much about Julia Child's professional life I knew so little about her personal one. She really had a strong will in and out of the kitchen. Remarkable women, she forever changed the landscape of the American Chef.

Diana said...

I can clearly remember how as a 10 year-old I made my first dinner for my parents...and I prepared my pasta dish honoring Julia. Looking back, the picture of a 10 year old mimicking Julia child seems like an odd scene. But that's how much of an impact she had on her audience: young and old, we all loved her.