How Julia Child Mastered French Cuisine and Convinced America to Love Her Too

On November 3, 1948, Julia Child and her husband Paul sat down for lunch at La Couronne, a venerable restaurant that opened in 1345 in the Norman capital of Rouen. Julia, a California native, worried she “didn’t look smart enough” for the venue.

Her husband, Paul, an American civil servant from New Jersey, was about to start a new job as an exhibition clerk for the United States Information Agency, a now-defunct branch of the State Department. (Julia later described the position in her memoirs My life in France as “a sort of culture/propaganda job” through which Paul would “help promote Franco-American relations through the visual arts.”) The two had just arrived in France after days on the SS America, an ocean liner . Julia had never been to Europe before.

Paul, who spoke fluent French, took over the ordering duties. The Childs enjoyed half-shell oysters with “a sensational salty flavor and a smooth texture that was totally new and surprising,” paired with rye bread and butter. They drank Pouilly-Fumé, a dry white wine from the Loire Valley. After the oysters came her main course, Sole Meuniere: a large Dover sole that arrived “perfectly browned in a sizzling buttery sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top”.

Sole meuniere is a stripped down dish. Like a simple croissant or a roast chicken, it leaves no room for the chef to hide: his technique is fully showcased. When done well, it can be sumptuous. La Couronne’s only meuniere, according to Julia Child, was “perfection”. Green salad and baguette followed cream cheese (a French dairy product similar to yogurt that has no English-language equivalent) and coffee.

“Our first lunch in France was absolutely perfect,” wrote Julia Child in her memoir. “It was the most exciting meal of my life.”

In the mythology of Julia Child, the only meuniere is considered the dish that gave birth to a legend. Two years after lunching at La Couronne, she enrolled in a culinary school and embarked on a journey that would make her one of the most celebrated chefs and connoisseurs of French cuisine in America. She has also become a prominent cultural figure; The kitchen, which she kept at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts (after her return from Paris), is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. Her first cookbook Mastery of French culinary art, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1961, is widely considered a classic and is credited with shaping both the cookbook industry and American food culture. Julia Childs Cooking Show, The French chefcan still be streamed today, six decades after it first aired.

The story of Julia Child, at the crossroads of the worlds of food, publishing and, well, France, has been told many times. There was the one-woman play from 1989 Enjoy your meal!, in which Jean Stapleton portrayed Child himself. The 2009 film was shown on the big screen Juliet & Julietbased on both Child’s own existence and that of blogger Julie Powell, who once set out to cook all of the recipes in it Mastery of French culinary art over the course of a year. The newest addition to the genre is Juliaa new HBO Max series focused on the development of The French chef and Julia Child’s Introduction to the World of Television.

Born in 1912 and raised in a “comfortable, wasp, upper-middle-class family” in Pasadena, California, Julia Child grew up on “American fare,” “delicious but unrefined food.” During World War II, she worked in the Office of Strategic Services (a now-defunct intelligence agency that was replaced by the CIA and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research). There she met Paul Cushing Child, 10 years her senior, raised by “a rather unconventional mother” who had herself lived in Paris. Paul had traveled the world, “spoke wonderful French” and “admired good food and wine”.

Julia Child’s kitchen display is seen in this photo of a television monitor at the media preview at the National Museum of American History August 14, 2012 in Washington, DC

(Larry French/Getty Images)

Julia Child sits in her kitchen at the National Museum of American History August 19, 2002 in Washington, DC

(TIM SLOAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Two years after moving to Paris with Paul, Julia enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu, a culinary and hospitality school founded in 1895. She deserved them Diploma of the kitchena classical education, in 1951. She wrote with two French cooks, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle Mastery of French culinary art, a comprehensive yet accessible bible of French cuisine. The book was originally awarded to Houghton Mifflin publishers, but the project fell through. It was Judith Jones, an editor at Knopf who had lived in Paris after college, who finally championed it.

Jones, as she later recalled in her own memoir The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, was hired mainly to work with translators of French authors such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. She was disillusioned with the state of food in America – the ingredients, she said eater in 2015 were “terrible”. “It was a weak time for cookbook writing in America, and there was also the fact that there didn’t seem to be an audience for them,” she said.

Julia Child in the late 1970s

(Hulton Archives/Getty Images)

The manuscript of Mastery of French culinary art seemed like an incredible gift. “I just couldn’t believe it. It was like someone sent me a present,” she said. Alfred Knopf, who founded the publishing company in 1915 with his wife Blanche Knopf, told an editorial meeting that Jones should “have a chance” on the project.

“That was the beginning,” Jones said. “I mean, it was just magic.”

Master was “the cookbook I dreamed of,” wrote the editor (now a legendary name at Knopf). The New York Times in 2004. “It explained techniques, talked about the right equipment, necessary ingredients and viable substitutes; it warned of pitfalls while still providing remedy for your mistakes. Also, although there were three authors, it was the voice of the American, clearly a student herself, who adored La Cuisine Française and was determined to dissect and translate it for an American audience.”

Almost 50 years after the book was published, Hollywood introduced Julia Child to a new generation of fans. Juliet & Juliet, released in 2009, starred Meryl Streep as Julia and Stanley Tucci as Paul. Amy Adams starred as Powell, the blogger and author whose book Julie & Julia: My Year of Dangerous Cooking provided half the inspiration for Nora Ephron’s screenplay (the other half came from Child’s own screenplay). My life in France). The film resulted in an Oscar nomination for Streep for Best Actress (Sandra Bullock won that year for her performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The blind side).

Meryl Streep as Julia Child in the 2009 film Julie & Julia

(YouTube/Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Sarah Lancashire as Julia Child in the 2022 HBO Max series Julia

(Seacia Pavao/HBO Max)

Julia Child died in 2004 at the age of 91. Her story has a timeless appeal that is continually brought to life by her genuine love of food. Clock The French chef and you will see that her appetite for French cuisine was both literal and intellectual. She approached him like a riddle to be solved; She wanted, needed, to know how to perfect every dish. She did so with a rare blend of perfectionism and self-forgiveness, gracefully admitting mishaps in front of the camera.

“When you’re alone in the kitchen, who sees it?” she rhetorically asks viewers on an episode of the cooking show titled The Potato Show. She just tried flipping a potato pancake with no tools, just a vigorous nudge of the pan. “When you flip anything, you really just have to have the courage to believe it — especially when it’s a fluffy crowd like this,” she tells the camera. When her attempt to flip the pancake only partially succeeds, she splashes out: “Look, when I flipped it, I didn’t have the guts to do it the way I should have. … But you only learn how to turn things by simply turning them.” The kitchen becomes a place of rigor and playfulness.

“Things happen in life,” Jones said eater two years before her own death in 2017. “Julia once said to me, and I quoted her, ‘Judith! We were born at the right time.’ And I said: ‘Yes, Julia, but we had to act.’ And she said, ‘You’re right!’”

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