Chefs We Love is a Valentine's Day tribute to those who have done great work in the culinary world -- to those who inspire us to not only eat well, but to try new things in our own kitchens. With this holiday around the corner, we at Kitchen Daily felt that it was appropriate to share our love and respect for those who have most inspired and influenced our passion for cooking. See more chefs we love.
I have a secret helper when I cook. She sits on my shoulder, lends advice, and shares tips and tricks while I move around the kitchen. She helps me cook by feel, by instinct, and by giving me courage to make crazy French recipes I never thought I could cook or bake, such as beurre blanc, boeuf bourguignon, mousse, puff pastry and more. No, it's not Remy the rat from "Ratatouille," it's Julia Child!
I love Julia! I can't say that enough. This charming, gentle giant of a woman changed home cooking forever with the publication of a single book and her relentless championing of French cooking. For someone who at first didn't know how to cook, only eat, this was a huge accomplishment. Her story is essentially a lesson about life that -- no matter your age, gender, or whatever you might think of as a limit -- once you set your mind to something you can achieve anything. And that's what she set out to do. Beginning at the age of 36 she set out to learn how to cook, took up a project to rewrite a tome on French cooking with two French women, and back in the U.S., became a conduit for cooking at home.
I first saw Julia as a kid, from watching her show with Jacques Pepin called "Cooking At Home." She didn't do much of the cooking -- it was Chef Pepin who did the heavy lifting of cooking the classic French recipes. Julia just sort of hung by his side and surveyed the territory. Here and there she did a bit of sauteing or slicing, but she really a guide, just watching over the the process. And that's exactly how I felt she functioned when her TV show "The French Chef" came about in 1963. She used the show as a platform to show people they too could cook with fresh ingredients after a decade of cooking from canned and boxed goods.
The 1950s brought along with it a new viewpoint on cooking, one that used canned goods to make dinner in a jiffy for the busy homemaker. But Julia tried to rewind things a bit. She gave tips on everything from trimming beef to buying different types of chicken. What she did was show so many people what they had entirely forgotten about -- that cooking from scratch could still be done. Eventually though Julia did embrace a few shortcut ingredients, like canned stock. If it was Julia-tested it was ok for the home kitchen. She became a guide for the home cook, guiding our way through the supermarket, how ingredients could be used -- but she offered more than just guidance on any given recipe.
Julia was one of the first to have a TV show focused on cooking. She was a pioneer in the field and you can tell from watching her shows in the beginning. (You can catch episodes on the Cooking Channel.) She bumbled a little, made mistakes and flubbed her lines, but she showed herself as human. And when she made a cooking error, she quickly showed us how to correct it. It proved to the viewer that the kitchen wasn't an arena for perfectionism, nor was cooking an impossible task for the homemaker. After flipping a mashed potato pancake and having it fail, Julia said "you just have to have the courage of your convictions." (Watch video 2 in the slideshow at the 14:35 mark.)
Even now, I feel like Julia serves as a guide while I cook, perched on my shoulder, giving me tips and hints for the recipes I make. I loved Julia because I could relate to her way around the kitchen. Her recipes all stemmed from classic renditions, but what she did was pull them apart to show us how they functioned, how a dish was to be made and how to recognize errors or faults in a recipe so that it could be fixed. And I watched to learn how to cook with courage. Julia will always be a guide for chefs, cookbook writers and home cooks. She speaks to us and if we listen intently, you can hear her. And that's exactly how I have learned how to cook -- to trust my instinct.