Happy Birthday, Julia Child! To celebrate what would be her 107th birthday today, August 15, we are sharing an interview Sally Sampson (founder of ChopChop Family) did with her when Julia used to live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sally used to own her own take-out shop near Boston, and many of her questions for Julia Child had to do with the food and restaurant scene in Boston at the time of the interview. Several of those questions have been omitted for the purposes of this blog post. Read Sally’s interview below, and get a greater glimpse into the thoughts and life of Julia Child!
By Sally Sampson
I interviewed the Grand Dame of cooking last week. The very thought both thrilled and unnerved me. Julia Child is, after all, responsible for much of how, what, and why we eat today and should be an inspiration to anyone who doesn’t know their way around the kitchen; she had only a brief acquaintance with hers before reaching the ripe old age of thirty-four. And yet, she has influenced at least two generations of home cooks and professional chefs in a deep and everlasting way.
With her no-nonsense style, unyielding passion, deep curiosity, and her seemingly endless humor, she made European—and specifically French cooking—accessible to Americans. She opened the doors for more pioneers to introduce other previously unknown cuisines.
She used to be everywhere; you’d turn on Public Television or The Food Network at almost any time of day or night, and there she was, braising a chicken, whipping cream, or introducing a hot young chef to a new audience. She earned a Peabody and an Emmy; her face graced the cover of Time Magazine; she lampooned on Saturday Night Live; she was immortalized as Julia Grownup, a Sesame Street muppet; and she sold millions of copies of her beloved cookbooks.
Lucky for me, she used to live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she had a pulse on the Boston restaurant and food scene.
Sally Sampson: The world of food is very different now than when you first came on the scene. Restaurants have huge international wine lists. Everyone serves good bread. Ethnic food abounds. To what do you attribute this?
Julia Child: Airplanes. Travel. The fact that people travel around more and then they want to see good food here, the way they got to when they were abroad.
SS: Why do you think the food is so much better abroad?
JC: In France, it’s sort of the national sport and it’s taken seriously. I hope it still will be. I don’t know how much France is changing. I’ve always loved Chinese food, but I lived there during World War II when it was a respected profession. I don’t know that the present regime values food as an art form as it did then. The food was so marvelous.
SS: Now, as opposed to twenty years ago, being a chef is a respected profession. Why?
JC: Because it is a profession and people are very much interested in it. People today are tremendously proud of their craft and they are being recognized as professionals. It was a dumping ground before. Now we have a master's degree and it’s a respected profession.
SS: If you had to do it all over, would you own your own restaurant?
Julia: It’s hard to say. I certainly wouldn’t in the old days. If I were twenty-five years old, yes, I would love to.
SS: Are you a proponent of cooking school?
JC: I think it’s terribly valuable. If you just do restaurant work, you’re going to miss parts of the curriculum. I would start out working in restaurants and then I would go over to France to go to La Varenne or to the Cordon Bleu and then I’d work there and then I’d go to Lenotre which is pastry and charcuterie and then I’d come back here and try to work with the best people available. It’s at least a ten-year discipline, probably more. It’s a fun profession because it’s like a big family, practically.
SS: Do you read restaurant reviews?
Julia: I don’t get the newspaper as much as I’d like to. I have too much work at this point. I like to read The New York Times, of course. And they review a lot of restaurants that I’ll probably never go to. But I think that they’re tremendously valuable, particularly in New York. They can kill a restaurant with a bad review and certainly, if you get a good one, people rush to you. Craig Claiborne really made restaurant reviews respectable to me.
SS: You can certainly be credited with encouraging a food revolution in the United States. Who else do you credit?
JC: I just happened to be the right person at the right time with the right training, but I have been far surpassed by our young people now. People are reading about the great chefs who are practicing now and they have great influence. Just think of all the great chefs in Boston and in New York. It’s hard to pinpoint anyone.
SS: These same chefs are writing cookbooks in droves, do you think it’s valuable?
JC: Anything is good that advances the profession. A lot of chefs cookbooks are really more for professionals to read unless they are written with someone who is a home cook. I think it’s a difficult genre because if it’s too technical, the home cook is turned off, and if it’s too namby-pamby, the serious cook doesn’t like it. It's a fine line.
SS: I know that you’re not fond of noise, but do you have any other pet peeves?
JC: I don’t like it when food is piled high on the plate. I like light. I don’t like it when you can’t see the food. If I can’t see the food, I don’t want to eat it. Why is there all this darkness? If you go to a good French restaurant in France, you can see everything.
SS: When you lived in France, did you eat out a lot?
JC: Yes, we did. It was such fun. The food was fun and it was good. We loved eating out when we were there because there was such a choice. And I think living in New York there is so much choice, more so than Boston. In Boston, there are no more than a dozen.
SS: Do you think it's good to take children out to eat in restaurants?
JC: It’s essential that children know how to eat in restaurants. It’s terribly important. They should be taken to good restaurants and not just hamburger joints. I think it's essential that they know what good food is supposed to taste like. If they just have a diet of pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs, they don’t know nuttin’. Nor do they know how to act in restaurants. It’s of prime importance.
We hope you enjoyed reading Sally’s questions and Julia’s answers! If you’d like to learn more about Julia Child, our friends over at Bravery Magazine recently published a magazine all about her. It includes stories about Julia Child’s life and lots of fun activities for kids (and adults, too!) that relate to food, cooking, and trying new things.
Interested in cooking up some French dishes as a family to celebrate Julia Child’s birthday? Cook up our Sweet Galette, Savory Galette, French Cassoulet, Salad Nicoise, Tuna Pan Bagnat, French Carrot Salad, or Omelet.