Julia Child changed the way Americans eat. Before Julia, French cooking was seen as something reserved solely for fine restaurants. Recipes for home-cooked meals stressed hygiene and convenience over freshness and taste. Thus, as was the case at my grandmother’s house, dinner would often involve a pork chop cooked within an inch of its life and a horrific jello salad concoction.
But with the launch of her hugely influential PBS TV show, The French Chef (1963–1973), Julia Child started to change America’s mind about what good food is and how it should be prepared. It’s hard to imagine the recent foodie revolution with its emphasis on seasonal, fresh ingredients without Child.
While the series was a showcase for her cooking prowess — honed by years of training at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu and with some of France’s most famous master chefs – Child’s playful, eccentric personality is what turned the show into a hit. The French Chef was videotaped live from start to finish, so every screw up was recorded for posterity. And yet those mistakes — along with her particular way of speaking and her enduring love of wine — endeared her to the audience. She was always poised, resourceful and surprisingly funny.
You can see that sense of humor on display in the video above, which was made for the staff’s holiday party just after the show premiered. With tongue squarely in cheek, Child demonstrates how to edit video with masking tape and a meat clever. (Note: do not edit videotape with masking tape and a meat cleaver.) When asked by her interviewer (in this slightly longer version here) whether the tape she was using was special, Child retorts, “Well, it’s just a nice sticky tape.”
Another example of Child’s keen sense of humor, along with her skills with a blow torch, is this late 1980s appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. Child originally intended on showing Letterman how to make a hamburger, but when the hot plate failed to work, she quickly improvised a brand new dish – beef tartare gratiné.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.