The Moment that Julia Child Became an American icon

Excerpts by Alex Prud’homme via The Boston Globe

Though she did not own a TV set, Julia had been bitten by the television bug from the moment she set foot on a studio set. She and her coauthor and best friend, Simone “Simca” Beck, had appeared on NBC’s Today show to promote Mastering , and afterward Julia wrote: “TV was certainly an impressive new medium.” (She would soon buy her first television with the proceeds from book sales.) By then, she had been teaching cooking for nine years and was on a mission to spread the gospel of “le gout francais” — the very essence of French taste — which she fervently believed could be reproduced by American cooks in their home kitchens. All that was needed, Julia said, were a set of clear instructions, the right tools and ingredients, and a little encouragement..

Child and members of WGBH’s production staff goof around on set. Photo by Paul Child. Credit line: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
Child and members of WGBH’s production staff goof around on set. Photo by Paul Child. Credit: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

In April 1962, shortly after appearing on I’ve Been Reading, Julia typed a memo to WGBH in which she laid out a vision for “an interesting, adult series of half-hour TV programs on French cooking addressed to an intelligent, reasonably sophisticated audience which likes good food and cooking.”

Each program, Julia suggested, should focus on just a few recipes, and her cooking demonstration — “informal, easy, conversational, yet timed to the minute” — should lead to a discussion of broader culinary matters, such as “a significant book on cooking or wine, an interesting piece of equipment, or a special product.” Julia suggested that other experts, such as a pastry chef or a sommelier, appear as guests, and that well-known chefs — such as James Beard or Joseph Donon (a master French cuisinier) — cook side by side with her on the show.

WGBH had never produced a cooking program, had a small audience, was largely run by volunteers, and operated on a shoestring budget. But encouraged by the public’s strong response to Julia on I’ve Been Reading, the station arranged for her to shoot three trial episodes of a televised cookery show.

On June 18, 1962, the Childs arrived at a borrowed “studio” in downtown Boston — actually, the demonstration kitchen of the Boston Gas Co. — to shoot the initial pilot episode, “The French Omelette.” (Julia preferred the French spelling of that word.) Julia brought her own frying pan, spatula, butter, and eggs. The lights flicked on, and the show’s producer, 28-year-old Russell “Russ” Morash, directed two stationary cameras. Because videotape was so dear, the show was essentially shot “live” in one continuous half-hour take. “I careened around the stove for the allotted twenty-eight minutes, flashing whisks and bowls and pans, and panting a bit under the hot lights,” she recalled. “The omelette came out just fine. And with that, WGBH-TV had lurched into educational television’s first cooking program.”

The second and third pilot episodes, “Coq au Vin” and “Souffles,” were both shot on June 25. This time, Julia had rehearsed the shows at home. Paul built a replica of the set in their kitchen, labeled utensils, made sure the ingredients were measured beforehand, and coached Julia with a stopwatch. Though she continued to gasp and misplace things, she grew more self-assured with each performance.

Julia’s special sauce — her ability to blend deep knowledge, broad experience, precise technique, self-deprecating humor, and infectious enthusiasm — won the public’s heart. There was simply no one quite like her on TV. Julia loved this “high-wire act,” but admitted that she was “a complete amateur” and had no idea how she came across on TV. The answer was simple: The camera, and the audience, loved her.

In response to the “Coq au Vin” show, a viewer named Irene McHogue wrote: “Not only did I get a wonderfully refreshing new approach to the preparation and cooking of said poultry, but really and truly one of the most surprisingly entertaining half hours I have ever spent before the TV in many a moon. I love the way she projected over the camera directly to me the watcher. Loved watching her catch the frying pan as it almost went off the counter; loved her looking for the cover of the casserole.”

Encouraged, WGBH signed Julia up for a 26-episode series. Ruth Lockwood, the assistant producer, scrounged up a track of bouncy French theme music. Unable to decide on a name for the program, Julia called it The French Chef — though she was neither French nor a professional chef (she called herself “a cook”) — until she could invent a better title.

In the first episode, a slightly nervous, fresh-faced Julia demonstrated how to make boeuf bourguignon, the venerable beef stew that would run as a leitmotif through her career. At the end of the show, she tucked a dish towel into her apron, and spontaneously said: “This is Julia Child. Bon appetit!”

When The French Chef hit the Boston airwaves in 1963, WGBH shared copies of the tapes with sister stations, allowing viewers in New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, and parts of New York to watch Julia a week after she aired in Boston. It would start being distributed nationally the next year.

The audience responded viscerally. You are a delight! wrote housewives, hippies, taxi drivers, MIT scientists, and Wall Streeters. The French Chef was “educational TV’s answer to underground movie and pop/op cults,” Joan Barthel wrote in The New York Times Magazine. “The program can be campier than ‘Batman,’ farther-out than ‘Lost in Space,’ and more penetrating than ‘Meet the Press’ as it probes the question: Can a Society be Great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”

A big part of Julia’s allure was her natural ease on TV. Her combination of grace and awkwardness built a sense of trust and intimacy with the audience, which was reinforced by her deep knowledge and sure technique. She used humor to keep her viewers engaged, but because she was so technically adept, she (usually) managed to triumph over adversity.

She would start making a quiche, misplace her glasses or lose her train of thought, find them again, and carry on. She would rapidly and expertly dice a pile of mushrooms, fillet a trout, and demonstrate how to encase poached eggs in a delicate consomme gelatin (oeufs en gelee). But in the next instant, a spoon would go flying off-screen, an Apple Charlotte would collapse and she’d mash it back together with her fingers (“It will taste even better this way”), or she’d incinerate the croutons atop a French onion soup into charcoal briquettes (“That’s beautiful! There you are. I think that possibly that browned a little bit too much. But I don’t know. It gives a very good effect.”)

Confronted by a mishap, Julia would look momentarily befuddled and cuss under her breath or just tilt her head back and laugh….

Julia liked to point the TV camera straight down into a pot of softly bubbling boeuf bourguignon to show what it should look like as it cooked. It was instructive, but it also activated your taste buds and tempted you to dive right through the screen to dig into a heaping bowl of that succulent comfort food. “To do that is not easy,” observed the chef Jacques Pepin. “She had a very rare quality.”…

Though she disliked “tooting my own horn,” Julia had a messianic zeal for spreading culinary knowledge. In championing the pleasure of shopping, cooking, eating, and even of cleaning the dishes, she became a role model for people of all genders, races, ages, and creeds. For her, kitchen work was not “domestic drudgery,” it was “such fun!” With the battle cry “Bon appetit!” she reinvented what it meant to be a television chef and brought a growing audience of American home cooks along for the ride.

Julia Child finds a place on … Twitch!

From the Boston Globe

On Twitch Creative, artists get an audience

twitch-globeSince launching in 2011, Twitch, the massive live-streaming video platform acquired by Amazon for nearly a billion dollars in 2014, has primarily been understood (blame the tagline) as “social video for gamers” — that is, a place for gamers watching other gamers game. (And, skeptics, speaking as a man who’s spent a considerable micro-percentage of the past three decades happily watching people other than myself play “Zelda,” from my pre-Web adolescence all the way up to last week on the sofa with hubby, I can and will attest to the actual entertainment value in this.)

But a growing portion of Twitch’s 100 million-plus monthly viewers aren’t just logging on to watch the hordes battling through “League of Legends” or “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.” They’re also quite into knitting and watercolors.

Last October, Twitch launched a new vertical, landing page, whatever — simply titled “Creative.” As the company observed more and more of its 1.7 million monthly broadcasters breaking terms and live-streaming non-gaming activities, the site’s Rules of Conduct were revised to permit such broadcasts, and the Creative page was created as a way to corral and showcase this growing sect of the usership.

Creative celebrated the launch by hosting an authorized series-long marathon of Bob Ross’s instructional PBS program “The Joy of Painting.” Similarly, last week, a marathon rebroadcast of Julia Child’s “The French Chef” marked the launch of twitch.com/food, a 24/7 platform for livestreamed cooking (a realm also under exploration by some YouTube vets with the newly launched Nom network).

Read more at the Boston Globe

My Favorite Story: Child and Cosby

From David Sloss

Julia Child from WikipediaIn 1966, the people who produce the Emmy awards decided it was time to recognize Educational TV, as it was then called.  They created a couple of award categories for ETV, and nominated several people.  The only winner was Julia Child, who had risen to national prominence by then.  

Several of us from WGBH were at the award dinner at the Americana Hotel in New York.  The host of the Emmy broadcast that year was to be Bill Cosby, but he didn’t make his entrance until they went on the air.  In the meantime, before the broadcast, a number of the lesser awards were given out, including Julia’s.  

Julia collected her Emmy and returned to the table.  Then someone came over and asked her to come along to the next room for a publicity photo.  Julia walked in, and there was Cosby.  The plan was to take a picture of Cosby handing the Emmy to Julia.  So Julia walked up to Cosby and said in her breezy way, “Well, I’m Julia Child, and who are you?”

Cosby said, “I’m Sydney Poitier!”

Julia said, “Oh, Mr. Poitier, well, I’ve certainly heard that you’re a fine actor!”

At that moment they took the picture, and the quizzical look on Cosby’s face was priceless.  The photo was posted on the wall in the lobby of the building on Western Avenue, and it was still hanging there when I left the following year.  I looked for it at the reunion, and was terribly sorry to see it had gone.

When the broadcast began, Cosby was introduced with a big flourish.  Julia, now back at her table, looked very puzzled.  “I don’t understand,” she said.  “They’re calling him Cosby, but he distinctly told me that his name was Poitier!”  

We soon enough figured out what had happened, and explained to Julia that Cosby must have been kidding.  “Oh, but I have to apologize to him,” she said.  “I just have to explain that I don’t watch his kind of television!”  

We assured Julia that the explanation was unnecessary.

Postal Service Releases Julia Child and Joyce Chen Stamps

From Boston Magazine – September 25, 2014

‘Celebrity Chefs Forever’ stamp features two Cambridge culinary icons

This Friday (September 26), in a ceremony in Chicago, the United States Postal Service will release its “Celebrity Chefs Forever” series featuring James Beard, Edna Lewis, Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, and two Cambridge culinary icons: Julia Child and Joyce Chen.

Child’s and Chen’s portraits were provided to the Postal Service by the Julia Child Foundation and the Chen family. The stamps were designed by art director Greg Breeding and feature digital illustrations by Jason Seiler, depicting the chefs in a style intended to resemble oil paintings.

CelebrityChefs-Forever-strip5-singles-BGv1-06Julia Child

Child is best known for demystifying French cuisine for an American audience through her two-volume book set, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and extremely popular television shows, The French Chef, Dinner at Julia’s, and the Emmy-winning In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs.

Child filmed episodes of The French Chef through 1966, which earned a Peabody Award and a 1966 Primetime Emmy. In 1981, she co-founded the American Institute of Wine and Food, and a decade later she and Jacques Pépin worked with Boston University to help create a graduate program in gastronomy. In 1996, TV Guide named Child one of the 50 greatest TV stars of all time.

CelebrityChefs-Forever-strip5-singles-BGv1-04Joyce Chen

Joyce Chen might not receive the same attention as Child, but was just as influential, promoting northern-style Chinese cuisine at a time when soy sauce was considered exotic. From her landmark Joyce Chen Restaurant, which opened on Concord Avenue in Cambridge in 1958, to her cookbooks and trailblazing PBS television show, Chen introduced unfamiliar dishes such as Peking duck, moo shu pork, and hot-and-sour soup.

At her restaurant, Chen popularized the now ubiquitous buffet-style dinner service. Through her popular cooking classes and her Joyce Chen Cook Book, she taught hundreds of recipes and as well as tips on proper chopstick usage, the importance of tea, and the preparation of perfect rice. In the decade following, Chen’s cookbook sold more than 70,000 copies.

WGBH eventually asked Chen to host her own show, Joyce Chen Cooks. Filmed in the late 1960s, the show is credited with greatly expanding America’s interest in and knowledge of Chinese food and culture. Chen died of Alzheimer’s disease in Lexington in 1994 and was posthumously included in the James Beard Foundation Hall of Fame.

 

Julia Child and David Ives to be inducted into the Mass. Broadcasters Hall of Fame

From Lynne Osborne

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 7.29.06 PMThe Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame will be inducting Julia Child and David Ives on Friday, September 12, 2014, at noon at Boston Mariott Quincy.

Other Inductees include Leo Beranek, John Garabedian, Hank Phillipi Ryan, and Bruce Schwoegler. Meet and greet begins at 11:30 a.m.

Reservations made prior to August 1 are $45 per person. Thereafter the price will be $50 per person. For reservations, go to www.massbroadcastershof.org. It is also possible to reserve a table (with 10 seats) if a number of people want to attend and sit together.

Narrated slide show: Julia Child in France (1970)

In the late 1960s, after great success with her cooking show, The French Chef, Julia Child returned to France to work on a second volume of her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

She became concerned with what she saw as the disappearance of hand-crafted foods during that progressive era of mechanization, and in 1970 she made arrangements for WGBH’s television crew to visit France and shoot The French Chef on location.

She wanted to not only show Americans the origins of her cooking techniques, but to document a vanishing way of life.

David Atwood was director of the WGBH crew who worked with Julia.

They made their way from Provence to Normandy, stopping to film the making of pâté pantin with a butcher in Plascassier, to feast on pressed duck in Rouen and suffer the heat along with properly made French bread inside a medieval bakery in Paris.

Atwood describes Child as the ringmaster of all the moving parts that went into filming the mini-documentaries and what a joy it was to work with her.