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Julia held the kitchen door open for men

March 2012

When did celebrity chefs take over the kitchen? Oh, didn’t you hear me? Maybe I should speak to you as if I were a celebrity chef: WHEN DID CELEBRITY CHEFS TAKE OVER THE KITCHEN?

It wasn’t long ago that Julia Child was the role model for adventurous cuisine. She of the “what-the-hell” attitude and the counsel that “if you don’t have butter, use cream.” She was the role model for liberating food from fastidiousness and women from the kitchen.

I think she had a greater effect on our generation, the first to be raised on TV, than America’s most famous TV news anchor, Walter Cronkite. Cronkite came back from reporting on the Vietnam war discouraged with American prospects.

“If I’ve lost Cronkite,” President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “I’ve lost Middle America.” Meanwhile America was looking at its middle,finding that it liked it, and Julia Child filled it.

Post-Second World War food had been relegated to science. Whether we were coming from farms or from far away, we migrated to cities. We were told that we had to be educated. Old styles of cooking—rural or immigrant—could be improved. Bread was bleached and fortified. Vitamins were added to milk. Soups were canned. Not only did Father Know Best (and what did he do at the office, anyway?), but mother knew nothing.

In the kitchen, it wasn’t recipes that ruled as much as regulations. Forget about a pinch of this and tasting. If you didn’t have a set of measuring cups calibrated in eighth-of-a-teaspoon increments, you were finished. If you didn’t rely on experts raised under the dicta of home economics, you might as well not get up in the morning.

By making cooking adventurous and fun, Julia liberated us. And by us, frankly, I don’t mean me, since men were given the role of playing with fire, outside, when the weather was nice, with a beer. In the 1950s, men were as likely to be in the kitchen as women were to be outside manning (and there’s a verb for you) the grill.

Julia changed it all. By making cooking fun, she let men come into the kitchen. Graham Kerr - equal parts cook and evangelist (oh was he ahead of his time) and Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet. They all said it was okay to have fun with cooking and you didn’t have to be brazen or beautiful to do it. You could be Middle America.

Now, however, Julia has morphed into Roseanne Barr. Rudeness is mistaken for passion and stardom equated with competence. If the chef is good looking and yells a lot, that’s even better. Gordon Ramsay has a lock on this, but others are trying to catch up. You can catch him on Kitchen Nightmares, Hell’s Kitchen, and the F-Word. F might stand for Food but it could as well beFuhgeddaboudit.

Then there are such shows as Iron Chef and Chopped that traumatize anyone thinking of making dinner. No wonder the fastest-growing part of any supermarket is the takeout section. Heat and serve. You’ve come a long way baby ... back to TV diners of the 1950s.

So, I root for Julia and sanity in the kitchen. I turn to her for advice as she gives just a hint of a smile when I drop the chicken on the floor (“You’re in the kitchen, no one is looking”) or her comment that “Once you have mastered a technique you hardly need to look at a recipe again and can take off on your own.”

This is the chef I want as my guide. A quiet nudge pointing to perfection. Shh! There’s cooking going on here.

Soup by Julia

Here is a recipe for basic soup adapted from one of her last books, Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom.

Bring the following to boil: 3 cups sliced leeks, 3 cups of chopped and peeled potatoes, 6 cups of water, ½ teaspoon salt. Simmer until tender. That’s the basic soup.

After 20-30 minutes, taste for seasoning. You can switch onions for leeks or combine them. You can use chicken stock instead of water. You can serve it chunky style or purée it. You can add a dollop of sour cream to each bowl at the table.

If you want it cold—a vichyssoise—purée it, add half a cup of cream and chill. You can add almost any vegetable to the basic soup: cauliflower, peas, red pepper, carrots ...

As Julia writes: “This is how you come up with some of your own marvelous ideas and secret “house recipes.” And no one does marvelous better than Julia.



At March 12, 2012 at 6:59 PM , Blogger Webs said...

Have you never caught Alton Brown - and I don't mean as MC on "Iron Chef". His "Good Eats" is genius.


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