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An Interview with Julia Child
by Phillip Silverstone

Silverstone & Julia Child Masterpieces are rarities, and the food world has a living and breathing masterpiece. I was honored to sit with her and talk to her, and savor her company for a short while. In reality, it was a brief encounter, but in memory it will always be an eternity – a gorgeous, sumptuous, enchanting eternity.

PS: Tell me about little Julia McWilliams and her first experiences with food. I understand that your grandmother was a pretty good cook.

JC: She was a good cook, but I grew-up in the teens and twenties and middle class people all had maids or cooks. There were lots of people who would come in as immigrants from Germany and Ireland and so forth, so there was lots of help around. Then it all disappeared in the thirties. My mother really didn't cook at all, except maybe baking powder biscuits, and living in California doing lots of tennis and golf and everything, I was always hungry. My feeling was the more you ate, the better. And that lasted until the age of about forty-two when I discovered that too many calories did something…

PS: I'd rather not be reminded about that at this point. You married just after World War II and ended up going to France where you joined the Cordon Bleu, and I read that you stayed there until they started to get a bit too extravagant.

JC: No, it wasn't that… they began repeating the lessons. I had no compunctions about extravagance of any type as long as it was edible.

PS: You teamed-up with two friends in France to create a cooking school, and upon returning to the States, you published a book that the three of you had written.

JC: We did it together. We started this little cooking school and my friends had already started a book on French cooking for Americans. This pleased me, and I wanted to go in with them. It began with a large number of pages on French sauces that I sent around to various people, and we finally received a contract for the sum of $250. We went out and produced a large manuscript of some 800 pages on French sauces and French poultry which included an esoteric section on things like going to the slaughterhouse and getting fresh pig's blood. For some reason the publisher wasn't interested in that kind of information, so we put together a regular book from soup to nuts, but it took us eight to ten years.

PS: Your book became Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What was the response to the book when it was first published?

JC: Fortunately that was about the time when people were really beginning to travel abroad. At first, people had to travel by ship which took five to six days, but when they began to fly, more people traveled and they became very interested in good cooking because in general, American cooking at that time was just awful.

PS: So when you returned to the States, this country's cooking wasn't terribly well respected around the world.

JC: It wasn't respected at all. It tended to be peanut butter and hamburgers.

PS: Would you have guessed that some thirty years later, you would have been able to produce a book, In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs, which contained some of the most incredible chefs on the planet from this very country?

JC: No, I certainly wouldn't because cooking wasn't a respected profession or discipline at that point. It was kind of a dumping ground, and if you couldn't hack it in something else, they put you into the kitchen. There is a wonderful and amazing change now where really educated people are involved. The reason the book is called Julia's Kitchen is that it's written for serious cooks who want to learn from the professionals. And there is such a tremendous difference between home cooking and restaurant cooking, especially large restaurant cooking which is an entirely different art form.

PS: How did the French Chef series come about, and what was the reaction of the fledging PBS at that time?

JC: I had hoped to get some French chefs on to do some teaching, and we needed a short title that would go on one line in the TV Guide, and the French Chef just fit there. Of course, we never had any French chefs on, and I'm neither French nor a chef. It was simply an appealing title at that point.

PS: In the past thirty-five years, what have you noticed in terms of people's attitudes towards eating? And are we losing anything as far as quality and variety in our fervor to have a healthy diet?

JC: Of course we now have this whole concept of the fear of food, and people seem to be very much misinformed. One day they're told that lard is poisonous, and it turns out that lard is perfectly fine to use. And it's very dangerous to not have a well balanced diet. We have that upside down pyramid in which we eat more beans and things, and less meat. We should all know by now that you don't go over 30% fat. If you use your head you can eat beautifully and deliciously following the guidelines of moderation. A small helping, which is probably necessary, and a little bit of everything and it's important to have a good time eating.

PS: If you started it all over again today, what would you do differently?

JC: I'd leap into France and I'd certainly learn more French. I would have gone to France earlier and taken a business course, along with a good course in nutrition. And while I love doing restaurant work, what I love most is the teaching, which is what I do most of now. The real answer is that I'd just do what I'm doing now, but do it better.

PS: You've written nine books, and so many articles, and of course, you've appeared so often on television. Do you have a particular favorite in terms of a series, a book, or whatever?

JC: I love my books, and I do enjoy the television. The problem with doing a book is that it's very lonely work. Television is such fun because you're working with a team, and it's like one big happy family.

PS: Where on earth do you find the inspiration for new recipes?

JC: There is never a problem about new dishes and ideas to do. I don't speak of recipes, rather I speak of a dish or a bread, or something like that. And actually I've been so involved with television that I'm looking forward to spending more time in the kitchen and doing a lot more cooking. You just start working on something and something else will suggest itself.

PS: Thirty years ago you were planning retirement…

JC: No! I have never, and would never consider retiring. For one thing, I would be unable to deduct all my business and travel expenses from my taxes.

PS: Who has been the greatest influence in your life?

JC: L'Escoffier, of course. I had great admiration for him, as I also did with all those chefs I worked with in Paris back in the late forties when I really began. That was the age of the old classical French cooking, and I'll always remember the seriousness with which they took their work. It made no difference how long or how difficult it was. If the final product was marvelous, it was worth the effort. They produced food as an art form, and that's what really inspired me. It was a profession worth pursuing.

PS: When the time comes for you to go to that great kitchen in the sky, what contributions do you hope to have made to the culinary world?

JC: That I helped make it a very worthwhile profession, and I was a part of that profession that is filled with very generous and very good people.


Phillip Silverstone Phillip Silverstone writes and hosts syndicated radio and TV wine features. His book, "Cheers! The World of a Wine-osaur" (Camino Books, $12) is available in bookstores everywhere. Phillip can be reached via e-mail at: winechap@pond.com.




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