Growing up, I remember summer vacations or sick days being home and watching PBS. If I wasn’t watching the Electric Company or doing yoga with Lilias, one of my favorite things to watch was The French Chef with Julia Child. I thought I would see what our free database, hoopla, had to offer. Hoopla features a large number of movies, TV shows and more that you can access from the comfort of your home. Sure enough, there was a documentary from the PBS American Masters Series. So I settled in with my cup of tea and watched Julia Child: America’s Favorite Chef.
Julia McWilliams was born in 1912 in Pasadena, California. Her family was well off, her home life typical for a family of means in the era. Cooking was always the furthest thing from her mind—they had a family chef! Julia was expected to attend college. Not for a career but to educate herself so she could catch a “good husband,” but it didn’t seem to be in the cards for her just yet. She got a job as a copywriter but eventually wanted to do more for the war effort, so she joined the OSS (the Office of Strategic Services) as a typist. Because of her education, she was given a position as a top-secret researcher working directly for the head of OSS. So despite rumors that she was a spy, she really wasn’t, but she had access to a lot of information.
In the OSS, she met the first love of her life, Paul Child, whom she married in 1946. The two of them traveled the world. At a restaurant in Rouen, France, she met the second love of her life: French cooking. The meal was a fish dish with a butter sauce. She decided then and there, this is what she wanted to do. She enrolled in the famous French cooking school, the Cordon Bleu. Classes were for housewives, but that wasn’t what she wanted, so she learned with the men!
The documentary then follows her work on the book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which took nearly 10 years to finally get published. It was a success, coming out just at the right time. America was very interested in all things French, thanks to the First Lady, Jackie Kennedy. In 1962, she appeared on a book review on WGBH, the Boston public TV station. She demonstrated cooking an omelet, French style. People loved it! This led to The French Chef with Julia Child, launched in February 1963. The rest is history.
I really enjoyed this documentary. There was a lot of information about her early life and exciting stories told by Julia. I was amazed to find out she wasn’t a good cook before Cordon Bleu. And no, she never dropped a chicken on the floor, but she made mistakes. She showed us it was okay to not be perfect. So what if half the potato pancake you just flipped ended up out of the pan… move on! Whether wielding a sledgehammer or a butcher knife, holding up a giant fish or massaging butter onto a raw chicken, Julia did it with fun and fearlessness. Julia Child was a cultural icon, all 6 foot 2 inches of her!