DC at Night

DC at Night

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy 100th, Julia Child

Julia in her kitchen
Before there was Emeril, before there were Iron Chefs, before there was a Food Network, there was Julia Child, the gracious grandmother of Americans' fascination with fine cuisine and one of the most popular celebrities of her era.

If Child, who died in 2004 at the age of 91, were alive, she would have celebrated her 100th anniversary today. And to celebrate that milestone, the Smithsonian Museum of American History, unveiled a special Child exhibition that includes the completely restored kitchen of her Cambridge, Massachusetts home.

Child's love of food and cooking really began during World War II when, as a member of the OSS (a precursor of the CIA) she lived in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and China and began sampling their dishes. In 1948, she and her husband Paul moved to Paris. "As soon as we got over there and I tasted the food, I couldn't get over it," she once told an interviewer.

Paul encouraged Julia to enroll in the elite Cordon Bleu cooking school. She was so impressed with French food and the French way of cooking that she wanted to write a cookbook encouraging Americans to think about cooking the way the French did. The result was Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the 1st of 14 cookbooks she would write during her long career. That book changed the way cookbooks were written. Previous cookbooks had basically been compendiums of traditional recipes that were simple lists of measurements and some general instructions. Child opted to offer a complete explanation of what to do, tool-by-tool and step-by-step.

In 1962, Child debuted on her 1st cooking show on PBS entitled The French Chef. That show would run for 10 years. She would star in various cooking shows and specials until she retired from TV a few years before her death. Viewers were drawn to Child as much by her sense of humor as they were her cooking prowess. Her message was simple - she wanted people to view cooking not as a chore, but as an immense pleasure and a true, creative outlet.

While dozens of visitors to the Child exhibit crowded around a large screen to watch segments from her popular shows today, others peered through the glass protecting her kitchen. The kitchen represents more than 50 years of cooking history, as tools from the 1940s hang next to ones from 2001, the year she donated her kitchen to the Smithsonian.

The restored kitchen and Child's contributions to the world of cooking will eventually serve as an anchor for the new section Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000 that the museum plans to open in November of this year.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
What better way to continue to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Child after our Smithsonian visit than by heading to one of the top French  bistros in D.C. for lunch? Our choice was made even easier by the fact that Washington is also celebrating one of its two annual Restaurant Weeks and the Bistro Bis (under the direction of Chef Jeff Buben, also head of the marvelous Southern-themed Vidalia here in D.C.) was offering a special 3-course $20.12 lunch menu. So what did I have, you ask? The appetizer - Pate de Campagne (country-style pork pate with mesclun salad, pistachios, toasted baguettes, and mustard sauce. The entree - Porc Toulousienne (honey-glazed pork belly with sweet corn, pearl onion, and heirloom bean ragu. Dessert - Gatea Tirimasu (coffee genoise layered with bavarian mascarpone cream and mocha sauce). Was it good, you ask? I think I'll let the before and after pictures of my dessert dish answer that.
Dessert: The before ...
... and the after.

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