Tuesday, April 29, 2008

You Really CAN Learn From TV

I wouldn't exactly call myself a TV junkie. Maybe at one point I was: pre-knitting, pre-6 cats, pre-Todd. Yet even now there are some shows that I like to watch periodically, some cartoons, etc. I do enjoy me some British comedy and most of the shows on BBC America. Then there's Lost. Don't even get me started....

I used to watch the Food Network a lot. I liked many of the shows on there and the "chefs" they had seemed down-to-earth and approachable. Hell, I even liked Rachel Ray back in the day. I'll admit that. However, this is WELL before her funny and hokey, little 30-Minute Meals show turned into a freakish, sprawling, insane, and reviling enterprise of her screaming maw on everything from magazines, to cookware, to Triscuits, and beyond. Now I pretty much can't stand the sight of her.

I digress.

Anyway, folks like Sarah Moulton (whose show isn't even on anymore, BOO), Ina Garten, and Alton Brown just seemed so different than the stodgy TV chefs I remember seeing when I was a kid. I suddenly recall a PBS series called Great Chefs of New Orleans. In retrospect, this show was probably very good and featured REAL CHEFS. But watching it as a 9-year old, I could barely understand what was going on. Everything was so complicated and most of the chefs had heavy accents, often foreign.

Hold on, back up there. What about Julia Child?

I grew up believing that Julia Child was a stuffy, British woman, probably a grandmother of about 12, who was most likely born in a kitchen with a recipe for Beef Bourguignon attached to her umbilical cord.

Aside from definitely being a woman, she was none of those things I mentioned above. But was, quite possibly, one of the most admirable women I have ever come to learn about. And just what medium disabused me of all these WRONG notions I contrived about Julia Child? A TV show on the Food Network called Chefography.

Briefly, here's what I learned:

First of all, she wasn't British. I have absolutely NO idea where I got that idea in my head. She was, actually, from California. Free-spirited and fiercely intelligent, she despised cooking and thought it was merely a utilitarian means to make foods edible.

Julia wanted to make a difference in the world. She joined the American Red Cross after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And later, her career took her overseas to Sri Lanka where she worked for the US government's Secret Service Office, which later would become the CIA. It was there she met her future husband, Paul Child. At age 34, she married Paul and 2 years later, the couple found themselves stationed in Paris, France.

It wasn't until 1949 that Julia Child seriously thought about cooking. She was 37 years old. Living in Paris certainly influenced her desire to learn, as well as her husband's cultured past as a poet and artist. She attended cooking school at Le Courdon Bleu. Julia was fun, smart, and practical with an ordered mind, yet a sense of adventure: a perfect combination to excel at the art of cooking.

And she did.

I'd like to say "...and the rest is history." But that would be an extreme disservice to Julia Child. I don't think many people realize how significant this woman was. She started her own cooking school with 2 of her friends; a real, gourmet cooking school for women. She wrote the compendium on French cooking, in 2 volumes. I'd like to own these someday, if they are still in print.

It wasn't until 1962 when anyone actually saw Julia Child on a television set. And it wasn't a cooking show. It was a book-review show on WGBH, a PBS station in Boston. On that show, Julia cooked an omelet right there, live. TV audiences wanted more Julia! In 1963 her cooking show, The French Chef, debuted on PBS. Julia was 51 years old. This was one of the first TV cooking shows to be met with resounding success. The show ran for 10 years, and then ran in re-runs until 1987.

It was probably during the 1975-1980 time-frame when I first saw Julia Child on TV. How little I understood, then, about what her life was like, her experiences, her fire, and her brilliance.

By the end of Chefography, I was nearly in tears. I loved everything about the real Julia Child. And how sad I was to have had this epiphany about her at this point in my life, age 35. But then again, as someone who didn't so much as pick up a frying pan until she was my age, Julia would have understood.

Thanks, Julia, for being you.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. Julia Child rocks!

Did you know that her kitchen is in the Smithsonian? Her ACTUAL KITCHEN--they took it apart, shipped it, and reassembled it on site. Cool.

Gina said...

Yeah! One of the many things I learned from that TV show about her!

Beth said...

Thanks for educating me about Julia. Her kitchen, at the Smithsonian? Too cool. And I could see it for free right? I wonder if she knitted too?