Julia Child Dies at the Age of 91
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JULIA CHILD: Welcome to The French Chef. I’m Julia Child. Today, we’re going to do breast of chicken in the French manner.
MARGARET WARNER: She was the debonair on-air cook who taught Americans that classic French cuisine was not only delicious, but not the slightest bit intimidating to make. Her show, The French Chef, debuted on public television in 1963 and became the longest- running cooking series ever. At 6’2″, Julia Child was an imposing figure in the kitchen, always in control, but never pretentious about her art.
JULIA CHILD: Then you taste it to see if it has enough salt and pepper in. Very good. It’s really one of the nicest ways of making rice, and you can see it isn’t difficult at all.
MARGARET WARNER: Her lilting voice made her sound British, but in fact, she was born in Pasadena in 1912. She’d never cooked at all until she married at the age of 34, but she trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris while her husband worked at the U.S. Embassy there. Her kitchen was a simple, functional workspace. There she instructed viewers on how to properly wield a rolling pin, a cleaver, a mallet, even a blowtorch, and this classic chef was a champion of such modern inventions as the food processor.
JULIA CHILD: You don’t want to leave it on. You want to pulse it.
MARGARET WARNER: Always, she said, use the freshest ingredients. And don’t shy away from butter or fat.
JULIA CHILD: You’ve got to have enough fat, 20 percent to 25 percent, because the fat makes for juiciness and also adds to the meat flavor. Tastes pretty good to me.
MARGARET WARNER: The first of her ten books, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” became and remained a classic.
JULIA CHILD: I’m not going into great deal into this onion peeling because we’ve done it so much.
MARGARET WARNER: Her energy and good humor made her shows seemed unscripted. One of her trademark rules was that in the privacy of your own kitchen there’s no disaster that can’t be remedied.
MAN: Mine’s not going to come off.
JULIA CHILD: Well, we have a whole lot. We have a whole lot more anyway.
MAN ( Laughs )
JULIA CHILD: Throw it on the floor.
MARGARET WARNER: By the 1970s, Child was such a recognizable figure that she was spoofed on Saturday Night Live.
ACTOR: (Saturday Night Live) Welcome. I’m Julia Child and today we’re going to make a holiday feast or les fetes d’holidaes.
JULIA CHILD: Welcome to my house. What fun we’re going to have.
MARGARET WARNER: She continued hosting TV cooking shows until recently. But two years ago, at the age of 90, she let her kitchen be disassembled and reinstalled at the Smithsonian, where it remains on exhibit. Julia Child died in California today, two days shy of her 92nd birthday.
JULIA CHILD: So that’s all for today on The French Chef. This is Julia Child. Bon appetit.
MARGARET WARNER: And for more on Julia Child, her life and her influence, we turn to Jacques Pepin, an acclaimed French chef, food columnist and host of award-winning TV cooking shows of his own. Lifelong friends, he and child collaborated in the 1990s on a number of books and cooking shows, including the PBS series and book “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.”
Welcome Jacques Pepin. Thanks for being with us.
JACQUES PEPIN: Thank you for having me.
MARGARET WARNER: In the world of great chefs and great cooks, what made Julia Childs special?
JACQUES PEPIN: Her character. I mean her physical appearance, her voice, but more than anything else, her kindness, you know, because people could feel through that little screen how genuine and how true she was. There was no two Julias – the one on television and the one in real life; she was just the way she was on television — unpretentious, ready to help, ready to have fun and interested in great food but simple food to be partaken with friends, and to be shared with family, friends with a glass of wine. That was her.
MARGARET WARNER: All part of the picture. I read today that you actually met her or at least her work before she ever went on television. You were already an acclaim French chef in New York and you got the manuscript of her cookbook?
JACQUES PEPIN: Well actually through Helen McCully, Helen McCully was the food editor of McCall’s and was quite known at that time in the food world. She died in 1976. And I came here at the end of 59 and by the end of 1960, I knew James Ville, Julia and Craig through Helen who was kind of my surrogate mother.
MARGARET WARNER: Well you -
JACQUES PEPIN: The food world was much smaller at that point. I remember in 1961, yes, Julia sent a manuscript of mastering the art of French cooking to Helen who showed it to me and yes, absolutely.
MARGARET WARNER: But you were quoted as saying that it was amazing, what made it amazing?
JACQUES PEPIN: What was amazing, I was kind of jealous of it because this is the type of book that I would have wanted to do, you know, explaining and showing how to demystify French cooking to a certain extent in a simpler way and a very American very enthusiastic way which is what Julia did.
We always joke that we started cooking together because she started cooking at the Cordon Bleu in Paris in his 1949 and I entered apprenticeship in 1939 when I was 13-years-old. So we started together and many times people also joke on the fact that when we were cooking together in the series, she ended up being more French than I was, I mean, being very strict about the recipe, the way it was to be done.
So she liked the kind of discipline, the kind of structure, the kind of French cuisine, and this is what she liked and what she cooked until the end of her life.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, I’m going to show a clip of the show in a minute, the one you did together but first remind us now when she started her own first show in 1963 what American cooking was like for most Americans.
JACQUES PEPIN: Oh, my God. At the supermarket, you know, there were only two types of salad, there was iceberg and romaine. There was no leek; there was no shallot; none of the vegetables.
To get mushroom, I remember going to the market and they would say aisle five, canned mushrooms. You had to go to a specialty store at that time in New York to get just regular white button mushrooms. It was another world.
MARGARET WARNER: Tuna casserole was the classic.
JACQUES PEPIN: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: Did she see herself as being on a mission to change American taste or to educate American taste? Or was she just having fun?
JACQUES PEPIN: Yeah, she was having fun but mostly Julia, through fun, wanted to teach. She was a very serious teacher. But of course the way her personality was, she was funny without wanting to be funny. She projected well her voice and all that makes her the ideal teacher that people could relate to. But she was not on a mission.
Her mission was to enjoy life, to cook with friends, to share food with friends was very important. And when we cooked together certainly, she always insists on the best quality ingredients. Certainly the taste was more important than the appearance, you know, in place and the sharing with friends was maybe the most important of all.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, we do have a short clip of your show together which we’d like to show right now and I want to ask you about.
JACQUES PEPIN: I will cook mine in the oven.
JULIA CHILD: In the oven?
JACQUES PEPIN: Yes.
JULIA CHILD: I’m going to finish mine in the oven so I hope you leave me a little bit of room.
JACQUES PEPIN: There will be some room.
JULIA CHILD: I don’t need too much.
JACQUES PEPIN: I’m putting a piece of gruyere here.
JULIA CHILD: Really nice. A really nice piece of ham.
JACQUES PEPIN: That ham really look good. I have chicken, when you have chicken leftovers, it’s a good way of using it. Cook chicken. I like to put a bit of Tabasco on mine.
JULIA CHILD: You’re a great one for hot stuff.
JACQUES PEPIN: Hot stuff, yes. I like herbs, you know.
MARGARET WARNER: How was your approach different? I’ve heard from friends who watched it a lot that you had a running debate about using butter and cream and cheese, for instance.
JACQUES PEPIN: Well, not really, you know. Too much is probably being made of the small differences that we had. For example, Julia liked white pepper and I liked black pepper. I use kosher salt – she wanted regular salt; you know, small details. But she loved to argue and see we didn’t have any recipes in that series which is quite unusual. We had an idea what we would cook. So it was like being with a friend or with a spouse and start, you know, arguing -
MARGARET WARNER: Improvising.
JACQUES PEPIN: — and sharing a glass of wine and cooking together. But we could add more or less because we didn’t have any recipes. We had a great time in the kitchen.
MARGARET WARNER: So what would you say is her legacy?
JACQUES PEPIN: Her legacy is to have demystified, as I’ve said, French cuisine as well as bring gone, you a lot of press pleasure and brightness into the kitchen. I mean our lives will be duller because of Julia being gone, because she was so great at making people happy and bringing happiness in your kitchen.
MARGARET WARNER: She also showed, did she not, a whole world or a whole generation of women that women could be great chefs?
JACQUES PEPIN: Absolutely. That was very important. Remember in the ’60s when she started, first it was one of the first cooks on television. In addition, she was a woman so it did a great deal I think for the woman chef who, at the time there was not that many females in the professional world of cooking. And which now there is a lot and conversely, actually, the home cook, there was not that many men who would go into the kitchen. It was domain of the woman. But now you had that type of crisscrossing. A lot of home cooks are male; a lot of professional cooks are female now. So she was very good at that. Certainly we all should be thankful for that.
MARGARET WARNER: So if Julia Childs materialized at your door tonight and offered to make you dinner, your favorite dinner, what would you have her make?
JACQUES PEPIN: No she wouldn’t. She would tell me, what are you cooking tonight? Each time I went to her house — I have been teaching at Boston University for 23 years – and when I would go to her house two or three times a year, we cooked together and the first thing she said, what do you want to cook, whether I went there for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I always cooked at her house.
It was a shared experiment and her husband would do drink. We cook together, we’d eat together, we’d share food and she would enjoy a glass of burgundy as well as a glass of Bordeaux. She was the anti-snub, you know, if anyone — eat anything. She was great to be with.
MARGARET WARNER: Jacques Pepin, it has been great being with you. Thank you.
JACQUES PEPIN: Thank you very much.