That Adorable Late Bloomer, Julia Child

Julia Child wrote her first cookbook at the age of 49. At 51, she introduced America to the concept of a television cooking show, “The French Chef”. By the time she died at 92, she had authored numerous books, cooked on camera for hundreds of television episodes, been dubbed “Our Lady of the Ladle” by Time Magazine, won the French Legion of Honor, three Emmys and a Peabody, and perhaps in her opinion best of all, had been parodied on Second City, Saturday Night Live, and The Cosby Show.

I remember a day in the 1970s when I was home sick with the flu, watching her on daytime TV. She man-handled an enormous fish and nasally exclaimed in breathless delight at its bright and clear (and lifeless) eye, a sure indication of freshness, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or vomit.

Now, as a woman over fifty attempting to reinvent myself, I feel admiration for her ability to launch herself into the business of cookbook-writing at a time when women her age played bridge. As a sufferer of social media paralysis, I envy her guileless style and easy authority in front of the camera. As a fellow lover of French cuisine, I am fascinated by Julia’s need to go from consumer of French food to master of French food and ultimately to ambassador of French food.

And of course she has influenced what I buy for my shop. I’ve got loads of copper and cookbooks that I’m listing. It’s all because of Julia.

In her very first cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, which she and her two French co-authors wrote over six arduous years, she penned a dedication that gives the reader a soupçon of the authors’ brilliance about to unfold:

“This is a book for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children’s meals, the parent-chauffeur-den mother syndrome, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat.”

Her most widely respected book, “The Way to Cook”, was published in 1989, also by Knopf. Julia had just celebrated her 77th birthday. The cookbook is literally Child’s chef d’oeuvre. Like the kind of sauce that takes hours to create, this book is a complex distillation of her years in the kitchen, and you can glean what she believes is truly important. She extolls the virtues of velvety butter and razor-sharp knives. The cookbook also contains an interesting passage about microwaves that hints at Child’s willingness to loosen up about modern cooking methods. Years earlier, she famously alienated the makers of Cuisinart when she complained on live television about the dullness of the blade. Cuisinart had not only sponsored that episode but they were seated in the studio audience.

I love the photos in the book of Julia’s gnarled liver-spotted hands. You know she earned every single scar. One of her suggestions to new cooks is to become accustomed to handling hot food with bare hands, as it is speedier than reaching for tongs. We have to wonder if cookbook editors of today would insist on hand models, or a manicure. I bet those age spots would be photoshopped in less time than it takes for Julia to mince an onion.

I’ll leave you with a few entertaining tidbits I discovered in writing this post. I could go on and on but in Julia’s words, “Everything in moderation. Including moderation.”

  • Julia continues to inspire us. A couple of weeks ago, Krista Tippitt interviewed world class cellist Yo-Yo Ma and asked him how he deals with stage fright. He said, “I channel Julia Child dropping a chicken.” You can listen to the interview here.
  • The funny thing is, Julia Child never dropped a chicken. Snopes researched this myth and debunked it. Read more here.
  • Nevertheless, Julia did enjoy parading her peeps. In this clip, you can see what her husband Paul called her ability as a natural clown in front of the camera. And what a voice!
  • Julia was 6'2". Paul was 5'10". But they fit together quite perfectly, like an oyster in its shell. In this excellent Vanity Fair expose, you can read about their steamy relationship.
  • A modern day Julia Child, Mimi Thorisson is a food blogger living in rural France. She embodies the idea of food being hunted and gathered and each day revolves around sourcing and preparation for her passel of children and dogs. Like a cave woman. A stunningly beautiful half-French, half-Chinese cave woman. Read her here.

Photos by Renn Kuhnen and Mithra Ballesteros.

Originally published at on March 25, 2016.