The world is celebrating Julia Child. And although it seems many people are always celebrating Julia Child, today marks what would have been her 100th birthday. Everywhere I turn lately, people are reminiscing about the positive influence of her philosophies on food, life and love.
Most notably, Julia seemed to have a profound impact on many men and women who were raised in a “Wonderbread world” made up of processed foods and fast meal fixes. Neither children, nor their parents at times, had a real understanding of what their food was made of. As Julia entered the living rooms and kitchens of kids from a young age, she taught them to embrace real ingredients with a curiosity unmatched for the times.
“I was a typical American kid growing up on a diet of wonderbread, cheap casseroles, and really bad sitcoms. Julia took me out of this land, uncovered the individual ingredients in my casseroles, and did it in French!” explains Jackie Lantry, a Vintage French shop keeper who attributes her love of all things French to Julia’s ability to take her away from the tiny, closed off village she grew up in.
Alison Price Becker, restaurateur of Alison Eighteen in downtown Manhattan, agrees with Jackie on all counts. “Her tales of life in Paris inspired home cooks to find the best ingredients. Certainly at the forefront of what has become the farm to table movement,” says Alison.
“Throw away the bad stuff and enjoy butter in your life,“ Julia always said, explains Jamie Estes, who worked with the chef herself for nine years as the director of PR for the International Associations of Culinary Professionals. Jamie notes, “It’s true Julia also enjoyed all food in moderation, something not easy for everyone to do.”
Real Food Movement
In fact, Trudy Scott, a food mood expert and certified nutritionist, explains, “Julia was a pioneer and ahead of her time, and with all the obesity, heart disease, anxiety and depression, we would do well to follow her great example.” According to Trudy, Julia’s cooking can be classified as whole food because it uses real items like meat, butter, vegetables, fruits, spices and doesn’t rely on boxed non-food items and processed foods. (And keep in mind organic, grass fed beef was the norm in Europe when Julia started her career.)
But wait, back to the butter. One of my favorite quotes from Julia states, “If you’re afraid of cream, use butter.”
Trudy explains, “Butter is a real whole food and when it comes from grass-fed cows it is a wonderful source of easily absorbed vitamin A, D, E and K2. It also contains a good balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats and contains high levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a compound that is protective against cancer and also helps with weight loss.” In today’s diet-crazed society, maybe it’s counter-intuitive to think butter could aid in weight loss, but I think Julia was on to something.
Additionally, she didn’t just preach to people the importance of using fresh ingredients to prepare a meal, she taught people how to actually do it. Sara Noonan spent an entire summer practicing the techniques in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. “I learned how to chop vegetables correctly, cook meat to perfection, embrace butter and prepare some of the best food I have ever made,” says Sara. Before, she was boring. Now, she explains, she’s braver. “I learned how to be creative and how to make food taste like something.” As well as being able to disassemble a whole chicken, she now signs up for a CSA box which forces her to use vegetables out of her comfort zone.
It’s obvious Julia taught creativity and bravery to many, and importantly, she set the example that you’re never too old to learn something new. But you’re also never too young! Julia has had an impact on even the youngest of viewers, thanks to both her PBS show, and more recently, with the modern day movie Julie & Julia, which caused a revival of interest in the late Julia Child.
Julia Child as an Inspiration for Life
Sarah Platanitis says Julia’s show The French Chef was the only one that could keep her attention as a toddler. She would make “recipes” right alongside the show, even as young as three years old, experimenting with whatever ingredients she could pull from the refrigerator. As an adult living overseas in Japan, Sarah took comfort in Julia’s shows on tapas, often watching purely for the comfort during homesick spells. “I even baked mini apple pies in a fish fry oven!” laughs Sarah.
It was later in life when the movie Julie & Julia inspired Sarah to start a food blog and helped her realize her desire to become a food writer. To this day, she keeps a photograph of Julia Child in her office.
And what about young love? Jessica Harris share similar stories of finding romance in the kitchen with their boyfriends, a few recipes and Julia Child’s influence.
Jessica explains she was never much of cook and avoided the kitchen at all costs. One night, her boyfriend rented Julie & Julia and together they set out on a new cooking adventure. “Halfway through the movie, amidst the flour dough and chocolate shavings, my boyfriend dropped to one knee and proposed to me,” says Jessica. The movie created such a fond memory for her that she started watching The French Chef, became truly immersed in Julia’s life, and still draws inspiration from her to this day as she embarks on a new career in her 30s.
Jessica is nothing but impressed when it comes to Julia’s outlook on love. She shared their favorite quote from Julia on matters of the heart, “We had a happy marriage because we were together all the time. We were friends, as well as husband and wife. We just had a good time.”
Always Willing to Lend a Hand
Julia could cook, she could teach, she could inspire, she could love, and I found out she also could leave a really long lasting impression.
When John Blanchette was a college student shopping at a fish market, he “heard the voice coming from the back of the store” and realized right away who it was. Julia Child was looking square at a monk fish, exclaiming, “I’m going to turn this ugly beast into a prince on my show tonight!”
John made the decision to approach and tell her how much he enjoyed her show and asked if she needed any interns. Who would have guessed when she said, “We can always use a young man like you on the show. Come by the set and see Paul tomorrow.” He ended up working there for a long time, never forgetting her generosity. She was gracious, always inviting the crew to her house for dinner, and trying to give everyone the time of day.
“People would lose their mind around her, pulling and tugging. ‘Julia I want to tell you about my soufflé’ or ‘Julia I named my cat after you’ or ‘Julia my son wants to work with Thomas Keller can you help me?’ She was true professional and always tried to answer everyone,” agrees Jamie, her PR director.
Amazingly enough, after hearing from John, the young intern who met Julia at the fish market in Inman Square, I heard from Robert Berkowitz, the owner of the very same, now famous Legal Seafoods. “She was thrilled to find truly fresh fish right in her neighborhood,” says Robert, who explains seafood was not the protein of choice for Americans in the 1960s. “Julia was able to convince new generations of mothers not only how easy it was to cook seafood, but how good it could taste as well.”
Maybe the most memorable thing Robert shared was how Julia would pull up in front of the market in her beige Volkswagen Beetle with a spatula wired to the radio antenna. This was so she could “remember where I’ve parked my car.”
Her humor was not always deliberate, just a reflection of her warm outlook on life.
Alison, the owner of the Manhattan eatery, recalls a time Julia visited her restaurant and ordered roast chicken. As the chicken was leaving the kitchen, it slipped off the plate and landed on the floor. “It gave me a fit of the giggles, for all I could think of was the roast chicken episode of her PBS show,” says Alison. “While she scooped hers up from the floor, we, of course, remade hers.” The best part was telling Julia what had happened, and her waving her hand in the air with that distinctive voice saying, “Oh, you could bring it.”
I can’t believe all the amazing stories I received when writing this article, and wish I could have included them all. She gave people hope in their careers, meaning to their menus, and energy and inspiration in their everyday attitudes. It’s no wonder so many people have gathered to celebrate 100 years of Julia Child.