Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Julia Child's Kitchen

I know she wasn't necessarily the greatest friend to animals; nonetheless, as a chef, Julia Child has been an inspiration to me ever since my childhood days of watching her "French Chef" series on PBS.  Thirty-five years ago there was no Food Network, there were very few celebrity chefs, and she was the only female chef anyone knew by name.  Other than maybe Betty Crocker.  So PBS was where you could find those cooking shows, and I ate them up (so to speak).

It seemed like I spent every Saturday afternoon with Julia Child, Jaques Pepin, The Frugal Gourmet, The Galloping Gourmet, and also The Victory Garden which occasionally had a cooking segment.  So when I found out several years ago that Julia Child's Cambridge kitchen had been transported to the Smithsonian, I wanted to make a pilgrimage.  I finally got that chance on my recent trip to DC.

As a result of the recent blockbuster, Julie and Julia, this exhibit has become quite popular.  Crowds gathered around each viewing window just for a peak into Julia's magical world.  We all gawked and oooed at every detail - the favorite being her nifty organization technique of using a pegboard with black marker outlines for hanging all her pots and pans in the correct location.

 I was surprised at the normal scale of the space, particularly since knowing she was 6 feet 2 inches tall.  The countertops were set higher than average due to her height, and yet there really wasn't much counter space on which to work.  In fact, I was surprised at how ordinary everything was.  This was just a basic looking home kitchen - no granite counters, no center island, no fancy glass-fronted cabinets or overhead lighting.  The floor was even a humble linoleum probably from the 70s.

And yet the kitchen exuded a simple elegance, with the calm blue of the cabinetry, the butcher block counters and table, clean stainless steel, and orderly arrangement of every piece which surely had its function.  It goes to show that individual style matters more when it comes to confidence in the kitchen than getting caught up in impressive state-of-the-art gadgets and magazine-spread design elements.  If you want a kitchen that you can actually work in, function always comes first.  And understated style helps.

It truly was a vicarious thrill to be there.  To think about Julia and Jaques filming their PBS show at that table, sitting down to share a glass of wine afterward.  It was like being home.  Comfy, welcoming, and always satisfying, no matter what was on the menu. 


Anonymous said...

I would love to get a poster of Julia Child's kitchen as a gift for you. I would have so much sentimental value for all the cooks who grew up inspired by her.

Mary Lawrence said...

Yeah, that would be cool. I'm surprised they didn't have anything like that in the Smithsonian gift shop.

Anonymous said...

How wonderful to take a stroll down memory lane. I enjoyed all of Julia Child's French Chef shows on PBS too. She was so informative as well as entetaining.

Anonymous said...

How wonderful to see Julia Child's kitchen at the Smithsonian. I enjoyed all of Julia Child's French Chef shows on PBS too. She was so informative and entertaining too. I hope to get to Washington to see the exhibit. It looks great.