Julia Rocked the Kitchen

Yesterday I heard a story about Julia Child that I just have to share with someone.  Who better than you?

Julia Child was an icon.  She may have singlehandedly converted the United States from a land of meat, potatoes and mushy vegetables to a country where you can get some of the best food in the world.

When I think back to some of the meals I was served as a child, I’m a little horrified.  Lots of red meat, creamy mashed potatoes loaded with butter, limp green beans and maybe, if it were a special occasion, a jello mold!

While in high school, I had take Home Economics to prepare me for my ultimate job as a “homemaker.”  (It was mandatory. The boys had to take Shop to learn how to do manly things.)  One semester was Sewing class, because, after all, every woman should know how to do a hem-stitch.  I took home a nifty apron from that one.  It would serve me well when I practiced my new skills from the second semester.  It was devoted to cooking, where we learned to make real culinary delights.  English muffin pizzas.  Green bean casserole.  Actually some of you may still be eating that one for Thanksgiving dinner.  (It’s so easy to make. A couple of cans of green beans, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a little milk and a can of Durkee Fried Onions on top.   Pop in the oven, cook a while, and serve.)

But my favorite was tuna casserole. Combine a couple cans of tuna, a couple of cans of cream of mushroom soup (are you noticing a trend here?), a little milk and half of a big bag of potato chips, crushed up.  Put in a casserole dish, and crumble the other half of the bag of chips on top.  Stick in the oven, cook a while, and enjoy.

Oh, yeah, I was totally prepared to be a homemaker with recipes like those.  Of course, girls never aspired to be “chefs.” Everyone knew chefs were men.  Women just cooked.

And then it began to change.  Julia Child went on public television in 1963 to introduce French food to American viewers.

With an army of minions on the floor behind the counter with her, like little kitchen elves to hand her things and take away things no longer needed, she cooked.  She showed home cooks that fine cooking was something they too could do.  Little girls who watched the show with Mom dreamed about becoming chefs.  Other chefs took to television in droves to show us their style of food.  And the country was off on an unprecedented culinary adventure.  We became “foodies.”

Everyone knows Julia’s story now thanks to the movie Julie and Julia. But this is a story about Julia that very few people know.

My mother-in-law lives in an independent living place nearby.  It seems that years years ago, before my MIL moved in, Julia Child’s brother and his wife lived there.  And naturally, Julia came to visit  The family reserved the private dining room available at the facility for such special events.  And it was a special event indeed.  It was the 1980s, and Julia Child was quite a celebrity by then.

The kitchen staff went into a tizzy.  Julia Child was coming.  What to prepare?  They normally cooked rather ordinary food for the seniors living there.  But this was Julia Child.  Could there be anything more intimidating than cooking for Julia Child?

They planned and came up with a menu befitting one of the country’s foremost food authorities.  I don’t know the menu, but I know it included such things as locally grown beef, fish that were swimming that morning, fresh vegetables, truffles, carefully prepared reductions, exquisite sauces, the whole nine yards.  They chopped, stirred, and sauteed.  They outdid themselves.  Literally.

The dinner hour came, and the group including Julia arrived at the dining room.  After they were settled, servers came around and presented menus featuring all these gourmet treats.  When it was Julia’s turn to order, she said “I’ll just have an omelet, thank you.”

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13 Responses to Julia Rocked the Kitchen

  1. She was a genius. She did change the face of American cooking. Good thing. You and I lived through the jello mold days (remember they were considered the fancy thing to bring to a pot luck?) and a meal for each day of the week that got repeated every week! Hooray for Julia Child!

    • PattiKen says:

      My step-mother made a yummy jello mold salad with cottage cheese, pineapple, onion, spinach, and mayo in lemon jello that I still make to this day, but mine is a scaled down version. And I’m you will know of Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury MA. They had (probably still do; little has changed there for years) a salad called a Jerusha Peach Mold that I could eat for dessert. Otherwise? Bleh.

  2. Michael says:

    Lovely story, although every time I see that video of Julia making an omelette I get jealous all over again that I’ve never managed to pull off that “slide the pan around” method of making an omelet – and she does it so effortlessly! I’ve gone a bit of a Julia Child binge lately; read “My Life in France” a couple of weeks ago and I’ve just gotten in the first season of “The French Chef” from Netflix.

    My mom always used bread crumbs instead of potato chips for the tuna casserole but other than that it, it’s looks exactly like my childhood.

    • PattiKen says:

      Hi, Michael. Welcome!

      You could do the “Julie Thing,” and cook your was through Julia’s tome. What I loved about Julia Child was her everyday approach to food. I remember one show where whatever she was making broke apart as she was plating it. She looked at it for a minute, then said in that wonderful voice, “That’s what they make parsley for,” and dumped a pile of parsley on to hide the broken spot.

      No potato chips? Oh, you don’t know what you were missing.

      Thanks for dropping by. I hope you’ll come again!

  3. souldipper says:

    Since I recently managed a Senior’s Residence, I appreciated this immensely! I am not the least bit surprised. She would be so disgusted with HOW people cooked – never mind WHAT they cooked. We had a resident who was a Julia Child graduate and it was not fun. Our staff were fabulous cooks and only the best produce/cuts/quality was used. No menu was repeated for at least 6 weeks, meat dishes varied throughout those 6 weeks, etc. But we didn’t cut food properly in the preparation. Or the timing was off. Or we used the wrong kind of salt. Finally we resolved the whole scenario by reimbursing her for the meal portion of her residency and she hired someone to cook for her. Her daughter assured us that no one in the family ever cooked for her unless they had no choice whatsoever.

    My heart goes out to them, big time!

    • PattiKen says:

      From all you read, she wasn’t the nicest of people. I have a friend who once house-sat for her for a summer when she and her husband we newly married. She thought Julia was wonderful. So I guess it all depends on whom you talk to.

      You know what, though? The other residents ate well the day Julia came to visit.

  4. 2zpoint says:

    I am surrounded by women chefs… they are very competitive too. Oh…no one ever says a word publicly but every one of them are scouting to see who’s bowl is the emptiest at the always occurring get-togethers. Funny to watch but too dangerous to say a word!

    • PattiKen says:

      Hi! I’m pleased to see you here. A gaggle of women chefs! I can just imagine the meals. Hey, you get good food that comes with entertainment built in! That’s not a bad thing.

      Thanks for coming. I hope you drop by again!

  5. Jamie Dedes says:

    That’s priceless. I used to watch with my mom. It was great. After that she could tell you how to prepare anything, but she still couldn’t cook. As a senior, she’d go the the senior center and explain to everyone there just how to cook traditional Lebanese food. Great! Then they’d ask her to bring some to their potlucks … guess who got to do the cooking! One day’s notice and business to run, a husband to manage, a house to clean, and a child to raise. Loved and still love, Julia. She and Paul were – among other things – great entrepreneurs.

    Hey, I still have the requiste apron…the fabric print has little girls on it in chefs hats running around saying, “too many cooks spoil the broth.” Why!? All they taught in school was to open a can …

    Great post! Checking email …:-)

    • Patti says:

      Your mom sounds like a very clever lady. She got you to cook for her, and you got to hone your skills. 😉

      You still have the apron? Mine is long gone. But back in the day, one Christmas I was as poor as a church mouse. Every woman I knew got an apron as a gift and every man got a tie. So the skills didn’t go to waste.

      • Jamie Dedes says:

        I guess “wily” would be the word 🙂 for Mom. She never cooked, but Julia would have liked her scrambled eggs … just about all Mom could have offered.

        Did you see Julie and Julia? My son and I went together. If felt like it was in keeping with tradition. I didn’t particularly care for the Julie parts, but I absolutely loved the Julia and Paul parts. Fabulous.

        I was glad to learn how to sew too.

        Later …

      • PattiKen says:

        I did see the movie, Jamie. I liked Julie’s real story better than the portrayal in the film. The idea of cooking your way through that tome of a cookbook is really daunting.

        I was a little surprised that the film portrayed Julia as being not particularly nice. She was considered “local” when we lived in the Boston area, and I only heard good things about her.

  6. Jamie Dedes says:

    Yes! I’ve heard only good things. She certainly was spontaneous on her show and always seemed kind.

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