Here is an excerpt of my essay for Penguin Random House’s “Signature” series — and if you are hungry, follow the link below for Julia’s recipe for Coq au Vin …
The Childs were oblivious to this. In the 1950s they were diplomats in Europe, and didn’t own a TV set. But upon their retirement in 1961, they settled into a gray clapboard house behind Harvard Yard, and Knopf published Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
In 1962, Julia appeared on ‘I’ve Been Reading,’ on WGBH, Boston’s new PBS station. In typical fashion, she cooked an omelet – and was so intent on her demonstration that she forgot to mention her book. Luckily, all twenty-seven people who tuned-in wrote to say: “We want more of that tall lady cooking!”
Encouraged, Julia shot three pilot (test) shows. After the Coq au Vin, or chicken stew, episode, 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 … And her to-do about the brandy-firing was without parallel for that rare tongue-in-cheek sort of humor the viewer longs for in this day of the over-rehearsed ad-lib.
In February 1963, WGBH debuted ‘The French Chef,’ shot on a borrowed set with found theme music. Julia made her audience feel as if they were standing right there in the kitchen as she deemed potatoes “neurotic vegetables,” smooshed a collapsing dessert together with her long fingers (“It tastes better that way!”), and brushed the teeth of a roast suckling pig.
There was simply no one like her on TV.
“The idea was to take the bugaboo out of cooking,” she explained. It worked. “You are a delight!,” wrote housewives, Hippies, taxi drivers, and MIT scientists.
“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?,” wrote The New York Times.
For the rest of my essay, and JC’s recipe for Coq au Vin, follow this link: