Karen (estherchaya) wrote,

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Julia Child died today. She would have been 92 on Sunday. *sniff*

Julia Child was an icon to me as I was growing up. I still remember her getting tipsy while showing me how to make a roast duck when I was 10 or 12. I'd never had duck and I thought then that I might love to try some (turns out that I hate duck, but I didn't know that then).

Julia Child, 91, Dies; She Entertained as She Taught Cooking

Published: August 13, 2004

ulia Child, who mastered the art of French cooking well enough to turn it into prime-time entertainment and who by introducing cassoulet to a casserole culture elevated both American food and television, died today at her home in Santa Barbara, Calif. She would have been 92 on Sunday.

She had been suffering from kidney failure, said a niece, Philadelphia Cousins.

As a cookbook author first and public television star second, Mrs. Child was a towering figure on the culinary front for more than 40 years. Most Americans knew her as the unflappable "French Chef," a tall and twinkly character who in demonstrating classic dishes could make lobster bisque look as easy as toast. But she was also a rarity in a profession characterized by savage backbiting: she was respected as much by her most judgmental peers as by amateurs who would not know a soufflé from a cupcake.

Mrs. Child was not the first dedicated cook to turn cooking into a spectator sport — James Beard preceded her on television in 1945, Dione Lucas in 1948 — but she was the first to understand the seductiveness of a breezy approach to daunting material. Her up-the-scales signature signoff, "bon appetit!" was the first French phrase many Americans ever learned to utter with confidence, much as they came to glorify stew as boeuf bourguignon. She admitted she was "a natural ham," and it was clear that she not only loved the camera but was almost intimate with it.

Mrs. Child, whose "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" has been through numerous editions, was a pop icon virtually from her debut on WGBH in Boston in 1963. She got her start in television at 50, an age youth-crazed producers today would consider well past her sell-by date, and made the cover of Time magazine five years later. Over the decades she was a favorite of comedians, most famously Dan Aykroyd on "Saturday Night Live," who played her boozily bleeding to death while shrieking, "Save the liver." Jean Stapleton even portrayed her in a musical with sung recipes called "Bon Appetit!" in 1989.

But Mrs. Child had more serious cultural side. She was the first public television personality to win an Emmy and also held a George Foster Peabody Award; her other accolades were as disparate as a National Book Award and the Legion d'Honneur from the French government. When she moved from her longtime home in Cambridge, Mass., to a retirement center in her home state of California, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington took her famous kitchen: whisks, stockpots and 800 knives.

For all her expertise at the stove, what made Mrs. Child such an influential teacher was her good-humored insistence that cooking was not brain surgery. If you drop the turkey on the floor, she would say, "You're alone in your kitchen."" Just pick it up and go on with the dressing. And by example she made cooking a respectable profession, for women as well as men.

Mrs. Child also consistently refused to cut her cuisine to fit the current fashion. At the height of the reign of nutrition terror, in the 80's and 90's, when reliable health information seemed to have the shelf life of a baguette, she repeated one mantra: "If you're afraid of butter, use cream." Long before anyone ever put the words French and paradox together, she was advocating red wine and cheese, and the more the better.

Her career was also marked by an integrity not often on display in a business in which loyalty to products lasts only as long as the endorsement dollars. Mrs. Child was always a star, never a spokesman. She prided herself on not granting endorsements, because she was "devoted to public television," and she was not afraid to mock sponsors of her advertising-free programs. She once demonstrated how to break off a part on a Cuisinart to make it less cumbersome to use even as the manufacturer's representatives sat in the audience. And she was known to sue to prevent a restaurant from advertising that it was one of her favorites.

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