About this time every year I begin rewatching episodes of the original French Chef series in preparation for our annual tribute to Julia Child dinner. Rewatching them not only amuses me but gives me pause to consider why she became the legend that she did. Now, I’m not just talking about the Julia Child we all have been introduced to through Julie Powell’s book “Julie & Julia” or the brilliant performance by Meryl Streep in the movie of the same name. I’m talking about the real deal. The woman who inspired other women to get back into the kitchen and cook, arguably launched the concept of the Food Network, built a cookbook empire of 12 books and was a regular on Good Morning America until very close to her death. People adored her, they made fun of her (Think Saturday Night Live) and they trusted her.
I always knew who Julia Child was, and had even seen a few of her episodes of the French Chef as a child/teenager, but I hadn’t yet begun to cook so I wasn’t particularly interested in her. When I started cooking about 12 years ago, I began rewatching her shows and reading her books and began what I would call a love affair with the woman. I couldn’t watch enough, read enough or learn enough about who she was and what she did. I was inspired by her, mesmerized by her and entertained by her. I have carried this inspiration with me and have continued trying to introduce or reintroduce people to her yearly with my Tribute to Julia dinner. I don’t expect everyone to be as enthusiastic about her as I, but I’m certain that everyone will appreciate the uniqueness of her through my eyes.
My theory is that she spoke to so many, including me, because she was the “every” woman. Well, almost. Except perhaps for her large frame and notable height, 6′ 3″, she was basically a typical female born at a time when most women didn’t work per se, but married off into good families and raised children. That is until she fell in love and moved to France, which of course changed her life as we all know the story so well now. Even then, however, she always admitted that she wasn’t a natural cook. It took a good teacher and a lot of practice to make the food she loved so much and was so passionate about. And even on her shows, the effort showed, often in the form of notable disasters. That endeared her to us. She wasn’t perfect and so we didn’t have to feel intimidated.
She also, had something I think we all strive for but many of us don’t actually achieve. A certain joie de vivre or carpe diem attitude. She didn’t just preach it, she lived it at every moment of her life. She ate with passion, drank with passion, loved with passion and entertained with passion. I’m sure she had her ups and downs, but I attribute her long life to this marvelous committment to living that I think we all envied and secretly tried to recreate in our own lives.
And finally, she was confident. She didn’t make apologies for her mistakes, she didn’t pretend to be a super model. She was who she was and she was proud. So many of us fall prey to the labels and preconceived notions of what we should look like and how we should behave in todays society that we end up placing immense pressures on ourselves to conform and don’t take the time to actually appreciate who we are. That made her a role model for modern women in my opinion and that holds true even to this day.
Much has changed since the French Chef came on the air for the first time in 1962. The world is a different place. But to this day and for eternity, Julia will remain in our hearts and our minds, a beacon of light shining upon our forks and knives, beckoning us to enjoy and wishing us Bon Appetit.