It’s easy to take Julia Child for granted as an inevitability—a model of American optimism and determination, in pearls, who waltzed onto television with a fabulous outlook. But our possibly most iconic cook of all time was equally a miracle, a distinct nonconformist who mustered a nation of home cooks in a commanding yet musical (or, in Juliaspeak, muuuusical) voice to to seize their lobsters and conquer their recipes, training generations to embrace food and flavor and company. It’s hard to imagine how we’d define home cooking without her. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how we’d even define Milk Street—would our mission be “change the way you cook,” if not for the person who single-handedly changed the way America cooked?
Even as her persona is reenacted time and again for TV viewers (currently, in the HBO drama “Julia”), we come back to Julia, year after year, to preserve and reenact Julia moments. (Doing the voice is irresistible, and always good-spirited.) Since she’s fresh on our minds once again, we’ve decided to run our own Julia Child marathon of blog posts, interviews, and radio highlights.
Christopher Kimball, Founder
Soon after I had moved to Boston, I got a call from someone who sounded a lot like Julia. Although I suspected it was a prank call, it was in fact Julia Child and I ended up at her house for dinner where I did a miserable job shucking oysters but a very good job drinking wine. A couple of years later, I took her out to dinner at a well-known Italian spot in the burbs. On the way, Julia was intrigued by the GPS system which featured a woman's voice. Julia asked me, "What does she think we ought to do now, dearie?" As with everyone she met, she took a keen interest in their well-being. We finally got to the restaurant and were seated with much fanfare in the back room. It was dark and Julia was having a hard time reading the menu. She asked the waiter to turn up the lights. The room remained dark. She asked again with no better result. Finally, she dipped into her large satchel and pulled out an enormous flashlight that a security guard would be proud of. She switched it on, the room was bathed in light, and she said, and not sotto voce, "Well, I guess we can read the menu now!"
Beth Tudor, Merchant
My parents lived in Santa Barbara, CA in the late 80’s and had dinner with Julia Child at a charity event. Apparently she charmed everyone at the table! They received a signed copy of her biography “Appetite for Life” which they kindly passed on to me. I relished every word of that book! I loved her relationship with Paul and the fact that she started her career at age 50 has always encouraged me. Re-invention has been a theme in my life and I always point to Julia as my inspiration.
Courtney Hill, Associate Director of Development/Recipe Developer
Growing up we had one television with one station, PBS. (I was born in 1982, so I was just deprived.) I’d spend my weekends and summers watching “I Dream of Jeannie” and Sandra Dee repeats. But I was there for the cooking shows. It’d start with “Great Chefs of the World," then “The French Chef,” followed by “Yan Can Cook,” and “Julia and Jacques.” I was hooked. On one hand, the sparkling chef coats, shiny kitchens and polished voiceovers of Great Chefs had me dreaming of becoming a world renowned chef. But on the other hand was Julia, and not just her larger-than-life figure and voice, but the way she spoke about food: unscripted. The sound of her cutting and chopping and laughing and sighing. And the “Bon Appetit!” at the end of each show. Whatever I did with myself as an adult, I knew I wanted to have as much fun as Julia. And, fortunately, I too have a huge appetite.
Another quickie: Every few years I wish to re-read My Life in France, but then realize I’ve farmed my copy out to someone, usually a younger cook. So I always re-buy the book or put it on my Christmas list, just to give it away again. Years later, I hear back from some of those younger cooks, now chefs themselves, sending me a picture of My Life in France in one of their young cook’s hands. Forever paying it forward.
Elizabeth Mindreau, Culinary Researcher
I grew up in Ohio in the 1970s and 80s, an early consumer of PBS and WGBH programming. I don’t remember intentionally watching “The French Chef,“ or making food from her books when I was young, but Julia Child was part of the fabric of my existence, always there. My direct connection to her legacy came later in my life, at a point when I was changing careers after spending a decade at home raising my young children. I didn’t want to return to graphic design, so I sought out opportunities with an early passion, food. I discovered the Master of Liberal Arts program at Boston University which was founded in the late 1980s by Julia Child, Jacques Pépin and Rebecca Alssid. I enrolled in the program and began the journey that lead me to Milk Street. I credit that program with giving me the tools that I use at work every day. Learning about Julia and her journey of switching careers later in life gave me the courage to pursue my own dreams and goals.
Lisa Hensiek, Director of Underwriting and Corporate Sponsorships
My family moved to Boston when I was just a wee girl. We did not watch a lot of TV so when it was on, it was a natural attraction. I distinctly remember my mom putting on Julia Child's show, “The French Chef” on WGBH and hearing that now familiar voice in my living room. And she was making omelettes. Eggs for dinner? I was instantly hooked, and watched all of the shows with my mom, who was always furiously taking notes. And often, the recipe Julia created on TV would make its way to our dinner table in the following week. I clearly remember my mom hosting a dinner party and French omelettes were on offer. I sat on the steps to the upstairs and watched all the fancy dressed men and women line up to get their individual omelette prepared for them. I was hooked. And I have held a special place in my heart, (and in my stomach!), for Julia all these years later. I always wished that I could have somehow met her and yet in a way, I have. Many times through her recipes, her shows and all the anecdotes about her. She was a tour de force and maybe never really realized it. Thank you, Julia.
Deborah Paddock, Production Assistant for Milk Street Radio
I had the pleasure of meeting Julia Child and Paul several times in her Cambridge home. At WGBH, I worked in the Design Department doing photo research. When Julia needed to be photographed, I was involved with the photographer. My small claim to fame is being in this group photo back in 1984-85 when we were featuring her on the cover of the November GBH program guide. (I'm the one with big glasses). Julia was wickedly funny and very political. There were many laughs, and she was just so great to work with.
Priyanka Shahane, Social Media & Marketing Writer
I first read My Life in France as a teenager. I devoured the memoir, feasting on Julia’s descriptions of the most incredible foods I thought someone could dream up, like sauces thickened with duck’s blood and buttery sole meunière. I was learning how to cook—as I was savoring the last pages of the book, I asked my mother if I could make Thanksgiving dinner that year. Bolstered by Julia’s passion for food, I was off to the races. I felt a kindred spirit in Julia—we both had roots in New England, and I went on to attend a women’s college, like her. I’m only one of the lucky many who have been inspired by her life.
Bianca Borges, Food Editor
My mother and I watched ‘The French Chef’ together when I was a child, it was ‘our’ show. We (she) had Julia’s cookbooks and cooked from them often. I now have those books. My mother was the type of person who didn’t care that Thanksgiving guests were seated, she was going to finish garnishing the @%! turkey. Small wonder I ended up a food stylist. When Baking With Julia came out, the publicist called me to handle the culinary end of her TV appearances in NYC. She answered my questions herself, not through the publicist, and because telephone was the fastest medium outside of fax machines, I got to hear that voice in my ear. She made a point to say “thank you“ after every gig. I’m not generally a stammering idiot in the presence of great chefs, but I was so in awe of her I might have been. On the last day, I watched her walk toward the exit and found myself running after her and asking if I could give her a hug. This was before cell phones, before selfies, before Instagram posts. She obliged graciously, and I’ve never regretted that the memory is mine alone.
Posts haven been lightly edited for clarity.
(Photos: Courtesy of Christopher Kimball; Deborah Paddock)