Julia and sardines—from My Life in France

At least one loyal reader questioned my unabashed reverence towrds Julia Child (who would have turned 100 today) in last week’s Vancouver Courier column, suggesting that I had overlooked truly great culinary writers such as MFK Fisher and Elizabeth David. My response was that the column  was as much about Julia Child the communicator in the new age of Television, as about her cooking or writing prowess. But there’s still no question in my mind (as the column states) that she single-handedly changed American cuisine for the better.

I was going to post a suitable summer recipe in honour of the day but as my copies of her books are elsewhere, here’s a clip that I think pays even more tribute to her, as she masterfully ad libs her way through what might have easily been a disastrous appearance on Letterman. You can watch how she’s absolutely unfazed as things go from bad to worse—and even shames the host into tasting the ‘steak tartare gratinée’ at the very end, after he spits out the first bite into his handkerchief.

Thanks for all you did and for who you remain, Julia…

Here’s the column:

The Hired Belly fondly remembers the first cookbook he ever bought: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Lent once too often, it’s long vanished, now replaced by its two voluminous paperback successors. Even today they’re my go-to references for classic dishes. But I still miss the smart red hardcover and greasestained pages.

The woman still hailed as the chef who transformed the way Americans, and others around the world, thought about food would have turned 100 next week (Aug. 15). Even in this era of celebrity cooks, no other chef past or present has had a greater influence than the one-time OSS (U.S. espionage agency) worker turned culinary icon. In fact, Child’s legendary “Bon Appétit” was likely the first (and perhaps only) French expression to come out of many an American mouth.

Aside from her undeniable prowess as a chef, Child excelled as a communicator-not only because she de-mystified French cuisine for the masses (like me) but also refused to pander to the inherent snobbery that defined it at the time.

Using the powerful, and at the time novel, medium of television, she brought fundamental change to the way that Americans cooked and kickstarted a revolution that transformed a generation weaned on processed foods and packaged recipes. In doing so she also helped lay the foundation for the California-styled bistro that still defines West Coast restaurant dining today.

Some even suggest that were it not for Child, PBS would never have gotten off the ground.

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