Everyone learns to cook for different reasons. Some people have a special diet, others take on a part-time kitchen job to help pay for college.
And some mothers teach their daughters so they will be able to cook for their future husbands. (Yes, this does still happen)
Why did Julia Child start cooking?
Julia Child learned to cook because she was a bored housewife.
And as a partial current member of the clan, I say housewife in the most un-derogatory way. But there are no two ways about it.
Julia Child was in France for her husband’s work assignment with no job of her own. She needed some way to fill her day and playing bridge wasn’t cutting it.
The Julia Child that lives in the hearts and minds of many and is embodied in the Smithsonian is far from “just a housewife.” But we all have to start somewhere.
It All Starts with Eating
Searching for a way to occupy her time, Paul Child asked Julia, “What is it you really like?”
“To eat,” she replied with a sigh.
“And you are so good at it!” was his encouraging response. (Or at least that’s how Julia’s memoir tells it.)
Where there is a passion for eating, a great cook can always develop. Julia Child’s illustrious years in the kitchen grew from her utter delight at the new tastes of French cuisine.
You could say that she had a natural palette, or some stuffy nonsense like that. But she grew up in Southern California in a family of unadventurous eaters. She just knew what she liked, and she found that in Paris.
How did she learn to cook?
Julia Child lived in a time where there was no volume on French cooking in the English language. Before she could try the recipes in a cookbook, let alone attend cooking school, she first had to cross the language hurdle.
When Paul gives Julia the massive Larousse Gastronomique as a gift, Julia is finally able to dive into French cook. Albeit, with her sub par French skills. But that was enough for her to start diligently cooking her way through the 3000+ recipes.
It’s All About Doing the Homework
Her first few lessons at the Cordon Bleu could have reduced a lesser woman to tears. She was told time and time again that it was not right. Whether “it” was chopping onions, flipping an omelette, or just holding her knife, there was a correct way to do it and Julia did not know what it was.
But while time has turned a Cordon Bleu education into a Julia Child hallmark, she earned most of her cooking knowledge on her own. She asked annoying questions. She attended extra demonstrations. And, most importantly, she worked on her own at home for hours.
In the contemporary movie, Meryl Streep as Julia Child cuts a massive stack of onions as if she were in an Iron Chef race. She awkwardly bangs her knife through the last batch and jumps for joy when she finishes first. Back in 1950, Julia Child spent hours at home attacking a pile of onions, perfecting her technique. When she returned to school her onions were not just the fastest, but the most perfectly diced.
Why She is THE Julia Child
There is nothing separating you from Julia Child but practice and persistance. Her Cordon Bleu cooking lessons are not what made her the icon that she is today, but her hours of scientifically testing and perfecting recipes.
While I am not suggesting that we all have to work that hard or aspire to that level of chef stardom, there is a nascent Julia Child in all of us.