Julia Child: the lady with the ladle

Julia Child: the lady with the ladle

by marlies|dekkers

“Find something you’re passionate about, and keep tremendously interested in it.”
— Julia Child

Julia was 6 feet, 2 inches (1.88 m) tall; too tall become a spy, something she started dreaming about as soon as the war broke out. Instead, she was sent by the Secret Service to Ceylon to work on several projects, such as developing a shark repellent, her first recorded recipe. On a tea farmer’s veranda, she met Paul Child: an artist, poet, photographer and gourmet who would be Julia’s biggest fan and supporter till the end of his life. (During the first years of her TV show, Paul did all the behind-scenes washing up – and a great deal of the grating, chopping and pre-cooking as well. “I’m here,” he used to say. “I’ll do anything.”)
“Find something you’re passionate about, and keep tremendously interested in it,” was one of Julia’s mottos, and by the time Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, Julia had already written the cooking bible ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ and begun hosting ‘The French Chef’ which would become the first cooking show to win an Emmy. The lanky late-bloomer had become a female trailblazer in a world traditionally dominated by men. Thanks to Julia, the stove was no longer a symbol of female oppression.

What was the recipe for Julia’s success? First of all, the combination of her infinite passion for food and her infectious enthusiasm. Then, there was her devil-may-care attitude. Or, in the words of her biographer Bob Spitz: “Julia dealt with rules the way she later dealt with vegetarians; she pretended they didn’t exist.” When she dropped food on the floor or set her soufflé on fire, she would say with a wink: “Remember you are alone in the kitchen and nobody can see. Never apologize!”.
And when she explained how to successfully flip a pancake or omelet, she would insist: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure!”. Julia didn’t just teach women how to cook, she showed them how to live: with relish and courage.

In 2010, actress Meryl Streep won an Academy Award for playing Julia Child in ‘Julie & Julia’, a movie inspired by Julia’s delightful memoir ‘My life in France’ and a bestselling book called ‘Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen’ (which itself was based on Julie Powell’s cooking blog ‘The Julie/Julia Project’). There was one scene in particular that perfectly summed up Julia’s infectious lust for life. Julia can be seen dancing through her kitchen in France, and at one point snatching some cannelloni out of a pot of boiling water with her bare hands, while crying: “These damn things are as hot as a stiff cock!”

Her French schooling had inspired Julia to believe in using luscious ingredients, but eating moderately. “People are afraid of French food because of all the cream and butter. But you don’t see all those big fat people over there that you see lumbering around here at Disneyland,” she once told an American journalist. She also loved wine and spirits but took long daily walks and lived healthily until the last few weeks. When she passed away, two days before her 92nd birthday, Julia had accomplished so much. She had written 10 bestselling cookbooks and had won many awards with her long-running show ‘The French Chef’. She had been bestowed the Legion of Honour by the French. Yet Julia’s message had remained simple and soulful throughout her life. “The pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite”, she concluded in her last book, ‘My life in France’. “Toujours bon appétit!”

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