Julia Child celebrates 25 years on TV

January 05, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Julia Child came not only to celebrate, but to slay some myths.

Ms. Child, marking 25 years cooking for the cameras on PBS, says she never dropped a chicken on the floor during her cooking show, then picked it up and put it back in the pan, saying, "Lucky me, I'm all alone in the kitchen and nobody will ever know the difference."

And she absolutely insists she never took a swig out of a wine bottle while cooking -- at least not when she was on the air.

"But people swear they saw me do those things on television," the grand dame of the TV kitchen said yesterday during a press conference at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Los Angeles. "It's become a kind of myth."

The seemingly ageless (but actually 82) Ms. Child has become a part of our shared television memories. She was there before there even was a PBS. Her first cooking show, "The French Chef," started on WGBH in Boston in 1961. Nine years later she joined PBS, and she has been at the stove in front of the cameras ever since.

Her press conference, which in cluded a cooking demonstration for lobster tacos, was held to mark her 25 years on PBS and to promote a new series, "In Julia's Kitchen With Master Chefs," which begins in April and is co-produced by Maryland Public Television. It features famous chefs cooking with Ms. Child in her home in Cambridge, Mass.

The session was a love-in. The TV critics tossed Ms. Child softballs, and she hit them straight out of the park with her deliciously blunt, unsentimental takes on cooking and life.

She was asked if she ever had disasters in the kitchen.

"Oh, I've had loads of them," she said. "And there's a lesson to be learned from cooking, because you can fix almost anything -- except, I guess, a fallen souffle or, well, maybe a rock-hard cake . . .

"I did, though, once have an apple charlotte. That's the one where you have a hot, syrupy, apple sauce and it gets stuffed into thick, buttered strips of bread and whipped. And it's all supposed to be very proud and high. And, as I'm describing it, mine was sitting in front of me and sinking lower and lower until it totally collapsed on the plate.

"And, so I looked into the camera and said, 'I, myself, don't like the apple charlotte at all if it's too stiff.' "

Asked about killing lobsters for the lobster tacos served to critics, she said, "Yes, we were very careful and we knew we had to kill this one ahead of time. We cannot have any wiggling around, because we will get complaints. . . . But, really, the trouble is that people are so stupid. . . . If you are going to eat a lobster, somebody has to kill it. Carnivores have to face some facts."

As for her career, Ms. Child acknowledged that much of her success was a matter of luck.

"I think I was fortunate to be the person who started television cooking. But I was very lucky that it came at the point that it did [in 1961].

"You see, my book on French cooking came out at the time when Americans were very interested in going abroad, because now they could go abroad thanks to air travel. And, as French cooking became the cat's whiskers, I just happened to be the one who was there."

Was that why her first show was called "The French Chef"?

"Well, I'm not French, now am I? No, we used the name because it was short and we wanted something that would fit on one line so we could get in the listings for TV Guide."

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