Does anyone in Australia understand the Julia Child adoration thing, or is this purely an American phenomenon?
I have known virtually nothing about her except her name – but in the New York Times this week is a long and lovely essay by the wonderful Michael Pollan about Julia Child, the first American TV chef, prompted by the new movie Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep as JC.
He muses about the changes in American home cooking and the influence of television upon it, starting with the way Julia Child apparently liberated a generation of American women from fear of cooking by dropping a potato pancake and then retrieving it and patching it back together – her show was live TV, after all.
Pollan is such an engaging writer (his book Second Nature, about gardens, was a big influence on me as I wrote my second novel The Submerged Cathedral, and his other books on food production and ethics, In Defence of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, are just as lively and provoking), and this essay is a beauty.
Pollan’s essay goes on to discuss the exponential rise of television cookery, and how American studies show that people spend more time watching cooking being done than doing it themselves (particularly interesting given the popularity of Master Chef here, and the talk about how it’s supposedly got people back into the kitchen. I wonder…).
Pollan writes that there are oodles of cooking shows on US television, but says of many of them:
These shows stress quick results, shortcuts and superconvenience but never the sort of pleasure — physical and mental — that Julia Child took in the work of cooking: the tomahawking of a fish skeleton or the chopping of an onion, the Rolfing of butter into the breast of a raw chicken or the vigorous whisking of heavy cream. By the end of the potato show, Julia was out of breath and had broken a sweat, which she mopped from her brow with a paper towel. (Have you ever seen Martha Stewart break a sweat? Pant? If so, you know her a lot better than the rest of us.) Child was less interested in making it fast or easy than making it right, because cooking for her was so much more than a means to a meal. It was a gratifying, even ennobling sort of work, engaging both the mind and the muscles. You didn’t do it to please a husband or impress guests; you did it to please yourself. No one cooking on television today gives the impression that they enjoy the actual work quite as much as Julia Child did. In this, she strikes me as a more liberated figure than many of the women who have followed her on television.
He also notes that Julia Child began her cooking show in the same year that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, and points out that although they could have been seen as adversaries, this wasn’t true: Child had an aversion to the word ‘housewife’ and treated cooking as a skill and an art, rather than another bit of household drudgery for women.
Anyway I could go on and on – but better for you to simply read this excellent essay here.
Then discover more about Julia Child here (or this fab Youtube video of her show here – it’s hilarious), and more here about the Nora Ephron movie (which in the way of this strange new world, originated from a blog. Yes, a food blog, called the Julie/Julia Project.).
I just watched the movie trailer and confess that I can’t wait!
Postscript – October 3 2009
Two more amusing additions to this post must be made.
First, this link to the beautifully narky Regina Schrambling at Slate, on ‘Why you’ll never cook from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking’.
And second, rather more entertainingly, The Defamer’s round-up of cranky food bloggers and their snooty dismissals of Julie Powell, the blogger whose work started the whole JC revival. Hilariously chock-full of envy and rage at their fellow blogger’s success, this stuff makes for rich reading. One namedropping post by a ‘trained chef’ even says, with disgust, “People who happen to eat and are able to type are now our new food experts”. Seems rather to miss the point of Julia Child’s taking cookery to the masses, no? Not to mention that the remark is written by a food blogger.
Anyway, all good for a laugh and found here.