Julia Child Shows Fred Rogers How to Make a Quick & Delicious Pasta Dish (1974)

Julia Child and Fred Rogers were titans of pub­lic tele­vi­sion, cel­e­brat­ed for their nat­ur­al warmth, the ease with which they deliv­ered impor­tant lessons to home view­ers, and, for a cer­tain sec­tor of the view­ing pub­lic, how read­i­ly their per­son­al­i­ties lent them­self to par­o­dy.

Child’s cook­ing pro­gram, The French Chef, debuted in 1963, and Roger’s much beloved children’s show, Mis­ter Rogers Neigh­bor­hood, fol­lowed five years lat­er.

Rogers occa­sion­al­ly invit­ed accom­plished celebri­ties to join him for seg­ments where­in they demon­strat­ed their par­tic­u­lar tal­ents:

With our guest’s help, I have been able to show a wide diver­si­ty of self-expres­sion, the extra­or­di­nary range of human poten­tial. I want chil­dren and their fam­i­lies to know that there are many con­struc­tive ways to express who they are and how they feel. 

In 1974, Child paid a call to the neigh­bor­hood bak­ery presided over by “Chef” Don Brock­ett  (whose lat­er cred­its includ­ed a cameo as a “Friend­ly Psy­chopath” in Silence of the Lambs…)

The easy-to-pre­pare pas­ta dish she teach­es Rogers — and, by exten­sion, his “tele­vi­sion friend” — to make takes a sur­pris­ing­ly opti­mistic view of the aver­age pre-school palate.

Red sauce gets a hard pass, in favor of a more sophis­ti­cat­ed blend of fla­vors stem­ming from tuna, black olives, and pimen­tos.

Brock­ett pro­vides an assist with both the cook­ing and, more impor­tant­ly, the child safe­ty rules that aren’t always front and cen­ter with this celebri­ty guest.

Child, who had no off­spring, comes off as a high-spir­it­ed, loosey-goosey, fun aunt, encour­ag­ing child view­ers to toss the cooked spaghet­ti “fair­ly high” after adding but­ter and oil “because it’s dra­mat­ic” and talk­ing as if they’ll be hit­ting the super­mar­ket solo, a flat­ter­ing notion to any tot whose refrain is “I do it mySELF!”

She wise­ly reframes tasks assigned to big­ger, more expe­ri­enced hand — boil­ing water, knife work — as less excit­ing than “the fan­cy busi­ness at the end”, and makes it stick by sug­gest­ing that the kids “order the grown ups to do what you want done,” a verb choice the ever-respect­ful Rogers like­ly would have avoid­ed.

As with The French Chef, her off-the-cuff remarks are a major source of delight.

Watch­ing his guest wipe a wood­en cut­ting board with olive oil, Rogers observes that some of his friends “could do this very well,” to which she replies:

It’s also good for your hands ‘coz it keeps ‘em nice and soft, so rub any excess into your hands.

She shares a bit of stage set scut­tle­butt regard­ing a let­ter from “some woman” who com­plained that the off-cam­era waste­bas­ket made it appear that Child was dis­card­ing peels and stems onto the floor.

She said, “Do you think this is a nice way to show young peo­ple how to cook, to throw things on the floor!?” And I said, “Well, I have a self clean­ing floor! …The self clean­ing is me.”

(Rogers appears both amused and relieved when the ulti­mate punch­line steers things back to the realm of good man­ners and per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty.)

Trans­fer­ring the slip­pery pre-cooked noo­dles from pot to serv­ing bowl, Child rem­i­nisces about a won­der­ful old movie in which some­one — “Char­lie Chap­lin or was it, I guess it was, uh, it wasn’t Mick­ey Rooney, maybe it was…” — eats spaghet­ti through a fun­nel.

If only the Inter­net had exist­ed in 1974 so intrigued par­ents could have Googled their way to the Noo­dle Break at the Bull Pup Cafe sequence from 1918’s The Cook, star­ring Roscoe “Fat­ty” Arbuck­le and Buster Keaton!

The fun­nel is but one of many inspired silent spaghet­ti gags in this sure­fire don’t‑try-this-at-home kid-pleas­er.

We learn that Child named her dish Spaghet­ti Mar­co Polo in a nod to a wide­ly cir­cu­lat­ed the­o­ry that pas­ta orig­i­nat­ed in Chi­na and was intro­duced to Italy by the explor­er, a bit of lore food writer Tori Avey of The His­to­ry Kitchen finds dif­fi­cult to swal­low:

A com­mon belief about pas­ta is that it was brought to Italy from Chi­na by Mar­co Polo dur­ing the 13th cen­tu­ry. In his book, The Trav­els of Mar­co Polo, there is a pas­sage that briefly men­tions his intro­duc­tion to a plant that pro­duced flour (pos­si­bly a bread­fruit tree). The Chi­nese used this plant to cre­ate a meal sim­i­lar to bar­ley flour. The bar­ley-like meal Polo men­tioned was used to make sev­er­al pas­ta-like dish­es, includ­ing one described as lagana (lasagna). Since Polo’s orig­i­nal text no longer exists, the book relies heav­i­ly on retellings by var­i­ous authors and experts. This, com­bined with the fact that pas­ta was already gain­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty in oth­er areas of Italy dur­ing the 13th-cen­tu­ry, makes it very unlike­ly that Mar­co Polo was the first to intro­duce pas­ta to Italy.

Ah well.

We’re glad Child went with the Chi­na the­o­ry as it pro­vides an excuse to eat spaghet­ti with chop­sticks.

Noth­ing is more day-mak­ing than see­ing Julia Child pop a small bun­dle of spaghet­ti direct­ly into Fred Rogers’ mouth from the tips of her chopsticks…though after using the same imple­ments to feed some to Chef Brock­ett too, she real­izes that this wasn’t the best les­son in food hygiene.

In 2021, this sort of boo-boo would result in an auto­mat­ic reshoot.

In the wilder, wooli­er 70s, a more press­ing con­cern, at least as far as pub­lic tele­vi­sion was con­cerned, was expand­ing lit­tle Amer­i­cans’ world­view, in part by show­ing them how to get a com­mand­ing grip on their chop­sticks. It’s nev­er too late to learn.

Bon appétit!


There are a num­ber of vari­a­tions online, but this recipe, from Food.com, hews close­ly to Child’s orig­i­nal, while pro­vid­ing mea­sure­ments for her eye­balled amounts.

Serves 4–6


1 lb spaghet­ti 

2 table­spoons but­ter 

2 table­spoons olive oil 

1 tea­spoon salt black pep­per 

1 6‑ounce can tuna packed in oil, flaked, undrained 

2 table­spoons pimien­to, diced or 2 table­spoons roast­ed red pep­pers, sliced into strips 

2 table­spoons green onions with tops, sliced 

2 table­spoons black olives, sliced 

2 table­spoons wal­nuts, chopped

1 cup Swiss cheese, shred­ded 

2 table­spoons fresh pars­ley or 2 table­spoons cilantro, chopped

Cook pas­ta accord­ing to pack­age direc­tions. 

Drain pas­ta and return to pot, stir­ring in but­ter, olive oil, and salt and pep­per. 

Toss with remain­ing ingre­di­ents and serve, gar­nished with pars­ley or cilantro.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Julia Child Shows David Let­ter­man How to Cook Meat with a Blow Torch

Watch Antho­ny Bourdain’s First Food-and-Trav­el Series A Cook’s Tour Free Online (2002–03)

Tast­ing His­to­ry: A Hit YouTube Series Shows How to Cook the Foods of Ancient Greece & Rome, Medieval Europe, and Oth­er Places & Peri­ods

Sci­ence & Cook­ing: Harvard’s Free Course on Mak­ing Cakes, Pael­la & Oth­er Deli­cious Food

MIT Teach­es You How to Speak Ital­ian & Cook Ital­ian Food All at Once (Free Online Course)


- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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