Do you remember when Julia Child would warble the introduction to her TV show?
The movie, Julie and Julia is being released today and I'm looking forward to seeing it with a friend one night next week. The guys have declared this a chick flick and we'll leave them home and enjoy the movie and an evening away from our own kitchens.
When I was a kid my mom would cook and we would eat. That was it. With four kids and a lack of modern appliances my mother had her hands full, teaching kids how to cook was not a possibility. That meant that I launched myself into first-marriage-hood with the title of "Clueless in the Kitchen". We're talking seriously clueless.
I can remember that about 6 months into the marriage I was getting really, really hungry. What passed for a meal in that household was very sad. It consisted mostly of things that came out of a box including a terrible thing called Chef Boy-R-Dee Pizza in a box. I attempted to move up to real meals but somehow I'd gotten the idea that I hated onions. Pair that with the fact that I didn't own a single spice and you've got the culinary equivalent of wet cardboard.
Enter Annie and Julia. They were a powerful pair, the one-two punch of information and chutzpah that launched me into the world of cooking and entertaining.
Annie was the mother of a good friend of mine. She was a terrific hostess who was kind enough to mentor me. I learned some very important lessons from her. First and foremost she believed that there was no secret to successfully entertaining, there was only preparation. If you were prepared, you couldn't help but be successful. Once she told me that they may not remember the meal but they'll never forget how you made them feel. Put together a menu, cook with the best ingredients you can afford and set a beautiful table.
Around time that Annie was influencing me an unlikely star appeared on the TV screen each week, Julia Child! She had the audacity to suggest that French cooking was no mystery, that if she could learn, anyone could. And she set about to teach us!
She, too, assured me that I could step outside my limited comfort zone and try something new and different and she made it seem like such fun. I applaud her insistence that the show, although taped, be shown without editing out mistakes or flubs. She believed that the only way that someone learns to cook is by making mistakes. And, she knew how to cook by the seat of her pants (no recipes).
What I learned from her is to think on your feet and to not allow yourself to get rattled. She taught us how to revive a not-so-perfect sauce and cover a sad looking bread pudding with some Creme Anglaise. (One of my more recent triumphs).
With her example I've done some crazy things, like serving my dinner party guests a dish that I made for the very first time. It was wonderful but another time the File Gumbo that I'd prepared a hundred times was a potential disaster. I'd started the gumbo early in the morning, intending to let it simmer for hours. I decided at the last minute to use chicken broth instead of plain hot water in a misguided attempt to add richness to the final product.
I put everything together and did a tasting. GACCCKKKK!! It was so salty you could float a battleship on it. There was no time to run to the store for more sausage and chicken. I thought to myself, "What would Julia do?"
Julia would strain all the liquid, saving the meat and vegetables, start a new roux and give if a second try. And that's what I did.
Julia Child's influence cannot be understated. I applaud her work and her zest for living.
How about you? Did Julia change the way you thought about cooking? What's the most adventurous or riskiest cooking/entertaining adventure?
I'd love to hear about it.
Please join me tomorrow when we're going to cook Julia Child's Baked Potato Pancake (Pommes de terre Byron). There's a terrific story behind it.
Here's Julia's Omelette show. A last minute dinner party for 300? That sounds crazy but she makes you believe you could pull it off! Classic Julia. Watch her toss a pan on the floor and notice she's cooking on a clunky old electric range!