Remembering Julia

She was still working on a book about her life in France with her husband, Paul, when she died. Her last TV cooking series, with Jacques Pépin, was in 1999 when she was 88. It came with a companion book that she reviewed.

It was her vigorous curiosity and joie de vivre that made Julia Child so appealing to so many people. And it is one of the many things that set her apart from many of today’s celebrity chefs and lifestyle entrepreneurs. But she could sometimes show her “flinty” side, too. This was an aspect of her personality that people tend to overlook or ignore, yet it was just as much a part of her as the fun-loving “ham” and “hayseed” that was her television persona. She was not simply a funny tall lady who dropped food on the floor and appeared to swig wine intemperately. In fact, she drank relatively little. She was a driven and rigorous technician, a well-trained and hard-working cook who loved French cuisine in part because it had what she called “rules.”

She wanted things done right and had an acerbic quality to her personality that was rarely seen in public. She hated the joyless, thin-lipped food police who didn’t understand the joy of cooking, eating and drinking. Pommes Anna was one her favorite dishes. It consists of thinly sliced potatoes, garlic, Parmesan and lashings of butter and cream. She said: “If you are worried about using so much butter, substitute more heavy cream.”

Julia said: “People looked at me and thought, ‘Well if she can cook, I certainly can.’ If you watch people who are too expert, you think you could never do it. But if you see a sort of normal person cooking, it makes you feel more confident. I had learned to cook at a mature age myself, so I understood that beginners need lots of details. At that time a lot of the recipes were very brief; they’d say put it under the broiler for 20 minutes. Well. I remember the first time I did that. When I came back, the chicken was all burned up. I’m sometimes laughed at for having long, detailed recipes, but if you don’t know how to cook, you really want to know how far under the broiler to put the chicken, what to baste it with and how hot the oven should be.”

Her epitaph was that she made millions of people happier. But she also showed them that nothing good comes easily and that pleasure is the reward for hard work.