Julia Child shares ideas about food and families

MASTER TEACHER

October 20, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

It's been more than 30 years since Julia Child first stepped onto a television set with a whisk, a copper bowl and some eggs and taught the world -- at least that part of the world that watched "educational" television -- to make an omelet.

The world has changed since then, and television, public and commercial, has also changed. But Ms. Child is very much the same person that generations have known and loved and learned from. As she launches her third television series this season, "Cooking with Master Chefs," she remains a tall, distinguished woman, articulate in her distinctive voice, and still passionate about good food and good living.

Ms. Child virtually invented the "how-to" TV cooking show with her first series, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," launched in the mid-'60s.

It was almost an accident, growing out of an interview on a book-review program, but it's no accident that she has stuck with the medium. "It's just a wonderful source for teaching," she says.

Ms. Child was in Baltimore over the weekend to attend a brunch at Citronelle restaurant, atop the Latham Hotel, given by Maryland Public Television, which co-produced the new series. "I think it's terribly useful to see things," she says. "Television is for looking and actions, and a book is for reading and philosophy. I think you need both."

Also attending the lunch Sunday -- but spending part of his time on the other side of the stove -- was chef Michel Richard, whose culinary philosophy guides the Citronelle in Baltimore, as well as other restaurants around the country. Mr. Richard, whose signature restaurant is Citrus, in Los Angeles, is one of the "masters" Ms. Child visited for the new series, watching him fix hot chocolate truffles in his home.

Before the lunch reception began, Ms. Child sat down in a green wicker chair and talked about her life in TV and about the state of cooking in America.

"Our new series is for people who really are interested in food," Ms. Child says. "It's not a lot of fluff or entertainment. They are entertaining, but if you're really interested in food, it's tremendously useful to see how the professionals do things."

Ms. Child, who once ran a cooking school in Paris called "L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes" with her friends and, later, book collaborators Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, wants her shows to be useful.

"The shows I've been connected with, we've been able to take the time to go into the detail that's needed," she says. For "Master Chefs," for instance, there was an entire day for rehearsal and an entire day for shooting each episode. "And we did it in segments, so that if it's not right, we redo it," she says.

The point is to illustrate the processes of cooking, to show that, even with French cooking, "it's not as difficult as you might think," she says. "My theory in teaching has always been first the main theme, and then the variations. Like, if you are doing cooking, how to simmer a chicken in wine sauce. And then you can have mushrooms or onions or tomatoes or what ever you want, but the main thing is, how do you cook it."

Other chefs who appear in the new series are Emeril Lagasse, of Emeril's in New Orleans; Patrick Clark, of the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington; Jean-Louis Palladin of Jean Louis at the Watergate, Washington; Jacques Pepin, author and teacher in Madison, Conn.; Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, Berkeley, Calif.; and Jeremiah Tower, of Stars in San Francisco.

(MPT, which co-sponsors the 16-part series with A La Carte Communications, of Guilford, Conn., airs the program on Channels 22 and 67 at 5 p.m. Sundays.)

Ms. Child also finds it no accident that she's no longer the only cook on the airwaves -- "Now there's something for everybody." She perceives Americans' current fascination with food as stemming from two not necessarily complementary trends. One

is a sort of "back to basics" reaction to the gastronomic excesses of the '80s, and the second is a growing concern for food safety and better nutrition.

She does not subscribe to the notion, sometimes propounded by the national food media, that everyone these days is too busy to cook.

"Well, all my friends cook," she says. "And all the people I know in Cambridge, everyone cooks. As a matter of fact, we mostly would rather cook than go out to a restaurant -- but we don't have the choices they do in New York. And it's so expensive to go out. And if it's not going to be a really good restaurant, why go to it, because you can do so well at home? Besides, when you're concerned with not only your pocketbook but also with your health, when you are cooking it yourself you know exactly what goes into it."

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