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Julia Child at 100

■ 15 August 2012 by James Martin

I’ve always liked Julia Child, even if she didn’t particularly like Italian food. Who in his right mind wouldn’t like a woman who said “the only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook”?

One of the things I notice when I travel to Europe is the number of people there who actually cook real food they get at markets. Not only do they quickly throw harmonious things together into a pot of some sort, but they then just stuff the pot into the oven, give the knob a crank, and wait for it to cook. Easy as pie.

You notice I didn’t say, “they measure the salt in a little spoon, sliding a knife over it so that a single crystal more then a half teaspoon doesn’t get into the food to poison it and kill the waiting guests with massive cardiac arrest. Then, after mixing well, they slide the whole pot of stew carefully into the oven, kneeling to get the proper parallax-free sight lines before rotating the oven temperature dial until the little pointer exactly lines up with the 227.5 marker…”

That’s the killer. That’s how things are cooked in many households in the US. Forget the Bible, The cookbook said it, and thus it spake to my soul; I must obey! And thus the soul is rapturously full…of unnecessary drudgery.

When my mother moved into her new house, we tested the oven. It was 75 degrees Fahrenheit less than what the dial said it should be. I told my mother to just compensate by cranking the temperature up 75 degrees for everything she needed to cook until we could get it fixed.

Then she made cookies. White-livered cookies.

She said the oven didn’t work very well. I asked her if she used the higher temperature as I had suggested. She said no, the recipe called for 350, and by golly, that’s what she had to use.

Thus spake the cookbook.

That’s what I’ll remember Julia Child by on the 100th anniversary of her birth—her liberation of the kitchen and the demise of drudgery. The genius of this woman with the odd, twirpy voice was in informing us that “the best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken”, unleashing by way of her irreverent authority the authorization to have a good time cooking our food, delivered in full vibrato, a true thing of beauty. And then, in a half hour, in glorious black and white, this unlikely “chef” elegantly cobbled together a meal fit for a king.

And to this day, I still have fun cooking. What about you?

(The whack the hell out of the chicken quote comes from Bon Appétit Julia Child)

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude” ~ Julia Child

Julia Child at 100 originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Aug 15, 2012, © James Martin.

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