Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bon Appetit?

One of my "must sees" while I was in Washington was Julia Child's Cambridge kitchen recreated at the Smithsonian. 

Some background.  When Julia Child moved back to her home state of California in 2001, she donated the kitchen from her Cambridge, Massachusetts, home (from where she broadcast three cooking shows) to the Museum. The exhibition features the actual kitchen, including the cabinets, appliances, her Garland range, cookbooks, kitchen table, and hundreds of utensils and gadgets.

It was fascinating to peek into the actual working kitchen of one of the world’s best-known cooks, and explore how her influence as an author and host of several television series changed the way America cooks.

The first thing that struck me was how small her kitchen was.  It only measured some 14 by 20 feet.   I'm so used to seeing gigantic McMansion kitchens, that it brought me back to the reality that it really doesn't take much space to create a superb meal.

Viewing Julia's kitchen also got me to reflect on her influence, and I sometimes wonder if that influence was all good.

Now, I adore Julia Child.  I'm one of those people who has cooked her way through a good part of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I also have several other of her cookbooks, and they are fabulous resources.

But, the problem with Julia is that she was trained as a professional chef and the cooking techniques she taught were the kind that professional chefs used.

Julia set the standard of cooking shows, and that standard, I'm afraid, oftentimes scares more people away from cooking then brings them to it.

Now I grew up in a big Italian household and was taught by my grandmother how to cook.  Nana never used a recipe.   She mixed an egg and flour together and if the concoction looked like it needed more flour she'd add it.   Her cooking was organic in the sense that there was never the need for a measuring cup or spoon.   Dinner was often based on whatever was in the refrigerator or growing in the garden.    There was never a "set" way to make anything from tomato sauce to cookies, but somehow or another everything came out of her kitchen tasting delicious.

Julia Child, on the other hand, was a proponent of scientific precision in her cooking and recipe development.   I have to say that her methodology was pretty much faultless.  Every recipe works perfectly if you follow her recipes to the letter.  

But, that legacy has led to a generation of cooks believing they can't cook unless they follow a recipe exactly, and that if some ingredient or another isn't available, then the recipe can't be made.   It's led to people believing that to make dinner, they have to first go to a store, recipe in hand, and doggedly go up and down the aisles until that list is filled.   Then they have to go home and meticulously chop, prep and measure.  

That can be exhausting.

We've lost something in the last 30 or 40 years, and that's a certain knowledge base of just knowing how to cook stuff without someone telling us how to do it.   That's led to people cooking less, and that in turn has led to people ordering in, taking out and eating out more.   This, in turn, has led to the obesity epidemic in this country.

Julia, I loved you, but see what you wrought?

1 comment:

  1. I think the invention of frozen meals and drive thru's is more of the problem than anything. People don't want to do anything, they want convenience. Even though my Mom worked she still cooked dinner, once in awhile it was a frozen pizza or take out pizza but it wasn't the norm for our family. Our "big" meals were Sunday dinners. I don't think families do that anymore. Another part of the problem.