Home Cook Hall of Fame: Julia Child

via PBS

We consider cooking the best method of doing dinner, because homemade food tastes best, is good for you, and brings you together with people, from family and friends to the makers who crafted your goat cheese. You already know that.

But we hardly came to this conclusion on our own: home cooking has a long history. To catch you up, we’ll be sharing the (abridged) stories of those  home-cooking heros, the chefs and reporters and cookbook authors and bloggers whose work has helped make us–and you–feel at home in the kitchen.

Today, meet Julia Child.

Who She Is

You probably already known Julia, she of the ringing “Bon Appetit!!” An American who moved to Paris with her husband, Child’s first wave of fame hit in 1963, when episodes of “The French Chef” became the first cooking show to air on PBS. In 2009, Meryl Streep portrayed her character with gusto in Julie and Julia, the movie.

Her Story

Child’s cooking career got off to a late start. At age 32, while working for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, Child moved to Ceylon and fell in love with her future husband, Paul Child. Only then did she start cooking–for him.  Together, they moved to France, because Paul was working for the U.S. State Department. In Paris, Child met two French chefs who were writing a book for American home cooks, and she started testing recipes for them. That led to a joint cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which came out with its first volume in 1961 and its second in 1970, and a TV show. By the time Child passed away at 92, her books, shows, and charisma had smilingly urged an entire generation to cook.

Why Cooking Matters

Well, you’ve got to eat. Child often noted how, until she got married, she didn’t cook, she merely ate. But sautéing and roasting not only became her career, the passion also cooked up a full, satisfying, and amusing life for her–a life full of dinner parties with interesting people whom her food had brought together. Conquering fears in the kitchen, she told us, can help with conquering the rest of life. Cooking matters precisely because it can be a testing ground for other ambitions, a place to flourish, try new things, fail, and get back on your feet.

Who She Hangs With

Child was at home with the top French and American chefs of her day, like James Beard. Her French collaborator on Mastering, Simone Beck, went on to write influential cookbooks of her own. Judith B. Jones, an editor at Knopf, published Child’s cookbook when no one else would and went on to edit many of the culinary stars of the 20th century.

Takeaways

To cook à la Julia, you have to be simultaneously ambitious and forgiving. You’ll never get into the kitchen if you’re afraid, she believed, and yet if you do spend time in the kitchen, you’re apt to mess up in a big way. So, you have to embrace this duality. “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure,” she said. “In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”