From The French Chef to Baking with Julia, Child was an on-screen personality like any other.
Julia Child was one of the most important figures in the history of American cooking. From her influential books like Mastering the Art of French Cooking to her most notable recipes, like boeuf bourguignon and quiche Lorraine, Child taught an entire generation of Americans how to cook and enjoy food. However, it was her TV shows, starting with The French Chef in 1963, that rocketed Child into culinary stardom and why she remains as important as ever.
Oddly enough, Child didn’t even begin her love affair with cooking until the age of 31 when she received a copy of The Joy of Cooking and a Gourmet Magazine subscription as wedding gifts from her family. Soon thereafter, her and her husband Paul relocated to Paris and she furthered her culinary skills by studying at Le Cordon Bleu after World War II. Her seminal cookbook, the aforementioned Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was first published in 1961 and soon thereafter in 1963, she began her TV career with The French Chef. Over the following 37 years, Child hosted 12 additional TV series and specials, including The Way to Cook, Baking with Julia and Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home.
In celebration of what would be Julia Child’s 105th birthday, here are five of her best TV moments.
Child makes boeuf bourguignon on the first episode of The French Chef.
If there’s one Julia Child recipe you’ve heard of, it’s definitely boeuf bourguignon. But besides the impact of the dish itself, this first episode of The French Chef was also most people’s introduction to Child’s larger than life persona. Child was, of course, exceptionally tall (six feet, two inches), but it was also her voice and on-screen presence that shine through brightly even 54 years after the episode originally aired in 1963.
Child teaches cooks about the different types of chickens on The French Chef.
One of Child’s primary missions, especially with her earlier shows, was to help American cooks relax more in the kitchen. “Lots of cooking is one failure after another and that’s how you finally learn.” Besides that, though, she also just wanted to have fun, as she did with her presentation of “the chicken sisters” from this clip from The French Chef.
Martha Stewart bakes a wedding cake with Child on Baking With Julia.
Martha Stewart was without a doubt heavily influenced by Child's work, as she tells the host during the intro of this episode of Baking with Julia from the late 1990s. The deep admiration that the two of them had for each other is evident in every frame and while Child was in her 80s at this point, she's still just as sharp and joyous as she was during her years on The French Chef. As Stewart said after Child's passing, "She pioneered cooking on TV before the Food Network, before chefs were rock stars. She allowed for mistakes, even disasters. If a leg of lamb slid off its platter at a dinner party, she gave permission to say, “Not to worry—I have another one just like it in the kitchen.”
Jacques Pepin & Child make sandwiches on Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home
If there was one chef that truly knew Julia Child, it was Jacques Pépin, who met her in 1959 and worked with her on everything from TV shows to the gastronomy program at Boston University over the next 40 years. In this episode of their show, Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home, they make a French sandwich together. While Pépin is busy doing most of the actual work, Child looks over his shoulder, playfully second-guessing most of his decisions. "We did agree on the fun of cooking together, the importance of using the best ingredients, the significance of attaining clarity in a dish and the value of using technique along with knowledge and love, all of which are part of what a great dish is," said Pépin. "For Julia, the sharing of food with family and friends was as important as the making of it."
Nancy Silverton bakes Child a tart on Baking with Julia
Nancy Silverton has gone on to do great things since appearing on Child's Baking with Julia in the late 1990s, including opening her many L.A. restaurants and recent appearance on Netflix's Chef's Table. At the time, though, Silverton was very early in her career and a bit intimidated to appear on Child's show. Before they shot the episode, Child explained that she didn't like to edit and that when Silverton needed to wrap up, Child would tap her on the hip. However, when Silverton got the tap, she was still finishing the fruit and wine syrup and hastily finished the dessert. She handed Child a forkful of the tart and after some uncomfortable silence, Child simply said, "‘That is the most delicious dessert I have ever had.”