Julia

Eat something before going to see this! Thank god I did, because you’d be ravenous within the first 5 minutes.

Julia is a documentary on the life and legacy of Julia Child, America’s first TV chef. And it’s actually a pretty interesting life. Although cooking on television was what she was famous for, she didn’t start that until she was in her 50s.

She was born in 1912 to a wealthy family of Republican wasps. She was expected to do nothing more than marry well, her father had picked out a suitor who was the son of a lucrative business contact. But Julia rejected the proposal and rejected the life, and when the war began, she signed up.

She was put to work in the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA, typing up spy reports. She got posted to Sri Lanka, where she met Paul Child, a polymath and self-made man. At first meeting, he found her irritating and she disdained his “unbecoming moustache”, but slowly and surely they fell in love. Paul was a self-taught artist, he could speak multiple languages, he was a photographer. It was Paul who introduced her to really good food and enjoyed discussing his love for it. And it was here Julia found her passion.

After the war, Paul was stationed in France, and Julia fell in love with French cuisine. She enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu school for chefs, and was the only woman on the course. She did meet a like-minded female chef, Simca, and together they came up with the idea of writing a book to introduce French cooking to America.

Julia decided to try to promote the book on American public TV as the publishers had little faith in it selling well. To jazz up the segment, she decided to cook an omelette while discussing the book to demonstrate how easy the recipes were to follow. This little segment became the birth of the TV cooking show industry.

It’s easy to forget just how dreich American food was in the 50s. Everything was marketed as convenience food, tv dinners and frozen meals. There was the weird obsession with jell-o or aspic, where you would put salad, or cut meat, or veg in a mould of jelly, and serve your dinner like something suspended in formaldehyde. Spam was considered a versatile main stay. Tinned soup doubled as a cooking sauce. Julia wanted to show that food was not a chore that should be done with as little time and strain as possible, but something you should put love into, and get love out of.

Her popularity on screen came in defiance of all the rules about women on television at the time. They were meant to be petite, slender, delicate, soft-spoken, demure, pristinely put-together, young and beautiful. They were not meant to be 6ft 2″, square-shouldered, with a plain face, and a commanding authorative voice, fearlessly confident, with her hair falling loose, sweating in the heat, at the age of 50. And yet she carved out a career that was unlike anything that had come before. She was constantly asked when she was going to retire, because she already “too old” for television when she started, so she kept going for as long as she liked, until she was almost 90.

In 2022, where everyone is obsessed with food, and food porn is its own genre, and celebrity chefs are so ubiquitous as to be interchangeable, it’s hard to imagine just how much Julia changed things. It was really fun to watch what an interesting life she had.

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