PBS Food talks with Lynne Rossetto Kasper, from radio’s The Splendid Table, about her time with Julia Child on the show, “In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs.” In the midst of Julia Child 100th Birthday Celebration, Kasper pays tribute to her legacy.
PBS Food: What was it like working with Julia Child?
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: This wasn’t the first time I worked with her. We had a chance to work together before. What struck me about that particular experience was that the whole show was being shot in her home. The basement is where the prepping for the show was being done. You came in a day ahead to go over the show, while your recipes were being prepped. Nancy Verde Barr, author of Backstage with Julia: My Years with Julia, was there monitoring every move in the kitchen. I was so impressed by Julia herself. By the time Master Chefs was done Julia wasn’t a spring chicken. I went into makeup the following morning. She had been filming the entire day-she was famous for her energy-there was mention that she was up till 4 o’clock writing. She still made the time to come in to say how delighted she was to be working with me. There is a humor side of it. Here you are explaining to Julia something about your dish when you want to be comparing note with her. You want to know what she will do.
There was always this generosity about her. She would always turn to the person she was with. She always turned the focus to the other person which just shows her immense generosity. She was driven to share what she loved and to invite you to join the rump. She never dumbed down. She gave us the credit that we were smart enough and that we could do it. She was very clever at reflecting, you would find out she was interviewing you instead of you interviewing her. As far as the experience of working with her that day, I saw she never let down. The most memorable moment was that my husband, Nancy and I all ended up at Julia’s for dinner. I went to my hotel at first to change and when I got back to the house 40 minutes later, Julia was sitting at the counter where all the shows were filmed and was prepping my dish from the show because she wanted to have it for dinner.
PBS Food: What do you believe is Julia Child’s lasting legacy?
Kasper: She believed that a lot of us were smart and that all of us were curious. If we had enough information and inspiration we could create incredible food. And that we deserved to do that and take the time. She had no patience with the dumbing down, she simplified and interpreted. I never met someone who wrote recipes like Julia. She thought about the experience of cooking something and was at your shoulder every minute telling you what to expect and what to do when things go wrong. Recipe writing was a craft not a sidelight. People don’t realize how a good writer she was. There was always an underline human. She spoke to you and never down to you.
I don’t know if anyone who gained celebrity as her at the time was as generous. For Julia, she had a clear eyed vision, she wanted to impart knowledge and reach out to people. She was the person who helped to begin and support significant professional organizations. She was available to everyone. She answered her own phone most of the time. She was there for everyone, even novices.
PBS Food: What was the impact of appearing on “In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs?”
Kasper: I think for all of us it was yet another sort of credibility. There was tremendous pride in being selected, to have the privilege to be with her. The standing of being on that show brought credibility to people already established but not known to the world. Here it is, how many years later, and those reruns still play. Every time a segment rerun is played I get calls from people. “You were on Julia Child!” It was that attention and elevation that she brought. She brought the audience to us. She was primarily an educator. In this series she wanted viewers to see the talent that was out there. The talent was not people with national recognition. They were wonderful chefs known in their own geographical regions. Julia was showing what was happening with food across America. She broke down the inferiority complex that American food would never be as good as Europe.
She had a wicked sense of humor. She was an incredible supporter. Her generosity was remarkable. The times I’ve had with her, the work I’ve done with her, I’ll never forget. Every time I worked with her I learned. Every time I worked with her I marveled. If she had chosen another field, no matter what, she would have been a leader. She had the natural quality of drawing people toward her and she was so smart. She was an outstanding person and I’m thankful she chose food.
Watch Julia Child and Lynne Rossetto Kasper
About Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won two James Beard Foundation Awards for Best National Radio Show on Food, four Clarion Awards and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show. Lynne has published three bestselling books: The Splendid Table, The Italian Country Table, and The Splendid Table’s How To Eat Supper. The Splendid Table, produced by American Public Media, can be heard on nearly 300 public radio stations nationwide.