washingtonpost.com

THE LAST WORD FROM JULIA CHILD

By Linda Greider
Special to The Washington Post

It's difficult now, in this age of raspberry vinegar and magret de canard, to remember a time before French cooking came to America. A time when cocktail sauce instead of ketchup on top of the meatloaf constituted innovation. When wine meant religious service and first course meant beer nuts. A time, in other words, before Julia Child.

When "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" was published in 1961, the earth moved for every cook who had known intuitively that other culinary planes existed -- if only we could get to them. When Julia Child and her two French coauthors admonished us to keep our knives sharp and to learn to handle hot foods with our bare hands, our eyes grew wide. When they told us how to make real French cre~pes (but not how to pronounce them; they were still "craypes", first we were aswoon and then "craypes" -- wrapped around creamed chicken or splashed with Grand Marnier and set afire -- became ubiquitous. Later, of course, cre~pes were declared outre' and banished from fashionable American tables, thus trashing several centuries of perfectly serviceable French tradition.

_____Free E-mail Newsletters_____
• News Headlines
• News Alert

Now, 28 years later, Julia is once again talking cre~pes, this time to a generation of cooks who come armed with technological assistance, sophistication (hardly anybody is heard to say "craype" any more), a relentless desire for expertise but not much in the way of examples. Her newest (and, she says, her last) book was officially published yesterday by Alfred A. Knopf. It carries the preemptive title "The Way to Cook," and the price of $50. It's a comprehensive theme-and-variations cookbook full of technical advice, recipes that work and pictures to tell the untutored what things should look like. Although the emphasis is still on French food and the techniques based in classical French cuisine, Julia has widened her interest to encompass more dishes thought of as American.

Naturally there is great interest in such a valedictory effort by Julia, who is an American folk hero of such proportions that it seems appropriate to call her by her first name, like a queen or a goddess. Book-of-the-Month Club chose "The Way to Cook" as a main selection for November, the first time a cookbook has been so honored. "Yes, it was a very big deal for us," said Brigitte Weeks, the club's editor-in-chief. "It's one of the most expensive main selections we've ever offered -- way, way above the price of most." Weeks says she was bowled over by the book, which she saw first in manuscript form before it was accompanied by graphics or photographs.

Robert Haft, president of Crown Books, says he thinks the "The Way," which has been in his stores since about the first of September, has the feeling of a "breakthrough" book, which in lay terms means that buyers in more than one category -- cooks and gift givers, say -- will buy the book. After a few years of decline in the cookbook market, says Haft, years in which people got worn out with southwest and muffins and microwave, there will be a new emphasis on the genre. And "The Way," Haft predicts, will be the classic.

And Julia's tall frame, always swaddled from the waist down in apron, has lately been seen inclining toward the readers of nearly every publication but Field and Stream. Reviews have tended toward the reverent and the loving chuckle ("that Julia! There she is telling us to make our own puff pastry again!").

So, of course Julia is propped up somewhere on silken cushions, barking orders like Leona Helmsley to a troupe of minions and enjoying her rekindled reknown?

No, Julia is in her Cambridge, Mass., kitchen, nicely explaining to the young man who sometimes helps her out that yes, she really does want to wash her new car (a Honda) herself and yes, she could take it to the carwash but she prefers to do it herself, no the hose won't be unsightly sitting in the driveway, and yes one last time, she does want to wash her car herself.

And she's making lunch for a visitor, one of those early-'60s cooks for whom the earth moved when "Mastering" was published. The visitor is fixated on those hands, now salting tomatoes, that first appeared in graceful line drawings in "Mastering," went on to become television stars as they trussed chickens for the video masses, and now are seen in four colors dropping scallops into the food processor in the pages of "The Way." Speckled and venerable, they work slowly, holding the knife that slices the very bottom ends off asparagus spears, then trimming the merest strips from around the stalks. (Just like it says in the book! And the knife appears to be very sharp!)

Julia is talking about how pleased she is with this latest book -- there were five others between it and the first volume of "Mastering" -- and giving all the credit to the only editor she's ever had, Judith Jones, and to her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

She didn't have to worry about the organization or graphics or general look of the book at all, she said, because Knopf is so good at that kind of thing. A look at the book, however, and at her at work fixing lunch in her own kitchen reveals the unmistakable imprint of a woman with an ordered mind and a willingness to take complete responsibility for what issues from it. And a person who, although renowned and recognizable, works alone more often than not.

The writing in the book, for example, though it appears mainly in snatches of paragraphs here and there, could only be Julia's. ("I suffer over it," she says.) Among other things, no one else would be allowed by editors to tell readers to spoon out the gouge`re paste in "large gobs." Instead it would be "rounded 1/3-cup portions." Anyone who is face to face with gouge`re paste, however, knows immediately that "large gobs" is perfectly descriptive.

And in case you think she just did the writing and Knopf took over from there, listen to Julia explaining why she's holding her back from time to time as she moves about her kitchen. Injured in the line of duty, it seems; there she was correcting proofs of the book, working on her bed like any other normal human being. As she turned repeatedly from bed to desk, desk to bed, she threw her back out.

By the age of 77, you'd think such a renowned figure would have collected some enemies. But besides one French critic, name now happily forgotten, who long ago "called me a drunk," and a certain post-"Mastering" coolness on the part of the New York Times' Craig Claiborne ("he gave 'Mastering' a nice send-off but he hasn't given me a nice one since") everybody seems to love Julia. In the food world, where one cook's pet technique is the object of another cook's bitter derision, this is unusual.

Maybe it's because she's so good at giving credit where credit is due. The pages of "The Way" are peppered with references to other authors' wonderful books, to the person she consulted about bread, the chef who suggested the scalloped potato recipe and to her favorite fish store. Or maybe it's because she's just so nice. "I deal with a lot of authors and I can tell you she is a nice human being," says Brigitte Weeks.

But it's not because Julia shies away from speaking her mind. The woman who introduced Americans to the concept of "gratin" and "mousse" and "wire whisk," along with other highfalutin then-esoterica, now espouses the use of nonstick pans, a concept as declasse' in the food world as plastic shirt-pocket protectors are in the world of fashion. And she's not just suggesting them for the great masses of unskilled either. In her own enormous kitchen, the French copper pots are lined up on walls and shelves on the other side of the room from the stove. Within grabbing range of the stove are slightly battered but spotless aluminum pans, many of them with nonstick linings. "Oh, yes, the copper is beautiful," she says. "I got it all in France in the '50s. But I find it so difficult to keep getting it retinned. I do like the copper lined with stainless, though, don't you?" (Stainless! More heresy!)

And Julia is a convert to the food processor as well. Like many converts, she's convinced that the processor is the one true way to facility with nearly all doughs. Never mind all that touchy-feely stuff that other food writers go on about. The new idea for French bread, for example, is that you mix the dough in the processor and begin kneading it by machine as well, then give it about 50 shoves by hand to finish it off.

This same machine-then-hand partnership is recommended for pastry doughs as well. That there are hands involved at all is some balm to those of us still stuck on the devastatingly French pronouncement in "Mastering": "A pastry blender may be used if you wish, but a necessary part of learning how to cook is to get the feel of the dough in your fingers. Il faut mettre la main a` la pa~te!" (You have to get your hands in the dough!)

She is most outspoken at the moment, however, about what she calls "food fear" -- the feeling among many Americans that a recipe that includes butter, cream, meat or salt is a recipe for murder. While "The Way" is attentive and relatively respectful of these new concerns -- there are suggestions here and there for reducing the fat in recipes -- it is based on the ideas of good flavors, balance and moderation rather than restriction. Cream and butter are certainly present.

"I'm afraid if we don't get out of this terrible food-fear hysteria," she says over salad, "it will be the death of gastronomy." In case the word "gastronomy" conjures up a picture of a puffy-eyed, red-nosed blimp wallowing in wine and pork fat, a description of Julia at 77 might be helpful. Despite the fact that she refuses to touch oat bran, here is a robust, slim, vastly energetic presence who not only washes her own car and writes her own copy but answers her own phone, cleans her own lettuce and does her own dishes. Watching her work, it's hard to argue with her philosophy of food-as-pleasure.

Besides that, the lunch she's serving her guest is a model of delicious moderation. We are to start with a nonalcoholic white wine some hopeful producer has sent along for her delectation. With one pump of the Italian wall-model cork puller, the bottle is open, the "wine" is poured and Julia is tasting. The lips purse and wiggle, the liquid is swallowed and the verdict is offered. "I like Welch's grape juice," says the French Chef. Literally down the drain goes any thought of endorsement. (She never writes book blurbs, either, being one of very few famous personages who believes "if you do that you have to read the book very carefully and I haven't had the time. I think if your name is on it you're endorsing everything in it.")

The real wine -- a nice white provided for her recent Smith College reunion -- is poured while Julia prepares the salad. Asparagus is peeled and blanched, tomatoes cut up and salted, avocados rendered into slices. How was the vacation, Julia asks her guest, knowing that the guest is in Cambridge on her way back from Maine. And the children? How do you like your daughter's boyfriend? The guest, meanwhile, is trying to memorize every movement of the famous hands, the New Balanced feet. She squirts a little olive oil (she likes Old Monk, hints that perhaps not all the "extra virgin" oil on the market is truly extra virgin, decries the expense of some of the fancier products) on the lettuce, then salts it with that elegant thumb-and-two-fingers technique that separates professionals from the rest of us. Basil leaves join the lettuce and a little French wine vinegar (she refuses to join the Balsamic bandwagon, declaring it too strong and ridiculously expensive) is sprinkled over.

From nowhere comes the English muffin splitter -- a sort of fork with very long and numerous tines -- and a muffin, made by a local woman and approved heartily by Julia, is split and toasted. The English muffin splitter resides in a kitchen that is a little dark, a tiny bit worn, and the equivalent of a religious shrine to anyone who loves cooking and cooking equipment. It is rich with exquisitely ordered stuff. Every pegboard-hung pot has had its outline drawn on the pegboard so that order can be maintained. Every plastic container is marked clearly ("lapsang souchong," "garlic," etc.), every knife assigned a place on the wall-hung holder. The main kitchen is large enough to hold a six-burner commercial range and a large table and chairs. There are two tiny sub-kitchens as well -- one dedicated to pastry making and the other a pantry. All in all, Julia's kitchen is the antithesis of the operating room aesthetic current in modern kitchen design.

Julia and her husband Paul, now 87, bought the house when they returned from overseas in the early '60s. Able to settle anywhere since Paul was retiring from the foreign service and Julia could cook wherever there was a kitchen, they decided on this roomy house a few blocks from Harvard Square. The decision was based on the kitchen.

By that time "Mastering" had been launched, a process that began in the late '40s in Paris when Julia decided to learn to cook. "In Paris I was considered some kind of a nut because I was a middle-class woman who wanted to do my own cooking," she says. There was no precedent for this kind of behavior in her family either, her mother's culinary repertoire being limited to Welsh rarebit on Thursdays when the cook was off. "She was an extremely nice mother," says Julia, "and she was always fun. But she didn't cook."

Julia eventually linked up with friends Simone Beck ("Simca is still like a sister to me") and Louisette Bertholle ("Louisette married a count and has been very successful on her own ... " who, with a third partner, had obtained a contract to do a French cookbook for a $75 advance. "Their collaborator died, much to my glee I must say," says Julia now, and Julia became involved. On the basis of a trial chapter the American publisher Houghton Mifflin offered them a contract. Five or six years later the three finally got their treatise on French sauces and poultry preparations to the publisher, who declared it unpublishable. When a more complete, 800-page manuscript, which became "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," was submitted, it too was rejected by Houghton Mifflin. "I don't think they were prepared for that kind of thing" says Julia now, without a trace of smugness.

When the book was finally published in 1961 by Knopf, Julia and Simone Beck ("Simca") invented their own publicity tour. "We had friends in California and Detroit and Chicago, so we wrote them and said 'we're coming, could you please arrange some demonstrations.' In Pasadena at a women's club where we were demonstrating, Paul was washing all the dishes in the ladies' room in cold water." Simca, meanwhile, fell in love with America: "She took a bus ride down to New Orleans and ate frozen blini. She loved the informal atmosphere here."

By 1963 the book was in its fifth printing and Julia had a contract with WGBH in Boston to do a series of 13 of her now-classic cooking classes. Soon after that, she made the cover of Time magazine and sales of the book took a quantum leap. "You could finally get abroad easily," she says, by way of explaining the immediate success of "Mastering," "and the Kennedys were in the White House with their French chef, Rene Verdon. People became interested in the exotic wonders of foreign food, particularly French. I happened to be there when people were able to do something about it."

Now there is a new generation of cooks, with new concerns. "They don't have much of a tradition," Julia says. "They've been buying take-out food and eating in restaurants." She worries about the death of gastronomy, worries that no one in the younger generation will want to eat anything but fast food and oat bran. "I think we have to get together and extol food," she says. "We should sit down to a nice leisurely dinner so we can talk and love each other."

If the new generation of cooks doesn't catch on with "The Way," they've lost their chance, because Julia is retiring from the book-writing business. "At my age I want to have a little fun. I want to write more articles, work with AIWF {the San Francisco-based American Institute of Wine and Food, which she helped to found} more, go to France, go to museums. I don't mean to tie myself down to my stove and my computer."

Here are some recipes from "The Way to Cook." Some of the amounts given by Julia Child are variable ("3 or 4 strips of thick-sliced bacon," for example). For purposes of nutritional analysis we've used the first possibility listed in all cases. Since no amounts at all are listed for salt, we've noted the amounts we used in parentheses.

CURLY ENDIVE WITH BACON AND SALAD DRESSING (6 servings)

This old favorite is coming back into vogue, I noticed the last time we were in France.

2 heads of curly endive

3 or 4 strips of thick-sliced bacon

1 large clove of garlic

Salt ( 1/4 teaspoon) and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

Wash and dry the endive, using the more tender leaves near the center if you have enough to spare, and turn it into a salad bowl; cover with damp paper towels and refrigerate until assembly time. Saute' the bacon until lightly brown and crisp, crumble it into a small bowl, and set aside. Pour the bacon fat into a small bowl, wipe out the frying pan, and return 1 tablespoon of clear bacon fat to it. Pure'e the garlic, mash to a fine paste with 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and set aside.

Just before serving, pour the oil into the bacon fat, blend in the mashed garlic, and warm over moderate heat -- but do not let the garlic brown. Pour in the wine vinegar, bring to the boil, and pour over the salad, turning and tossing to blend, and adding several grinds of pepper as you do so. Toss in half the crumbled bacon; sprinkle on the rest, and serve at once.

Per serving: 45 calories, 1 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, .9 gm saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 147 mg sodium.

RAGOUT OF CHICKEN AND ONIONS IN RED WINE (4 servings)

2 1/2 to 3 pounds frying-chicken parts

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil or good cooking oil

3 cups sliced onion

Salt ( 1/2 teaspoon) and freshly ground pepper

1 or 2 large cloves of garlic, pure'ed

1 imported bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon or so thyme

1 large ripe red unpeeled tomato, chopped, or 1/3 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes

3 cups young red wine (zinfandel, Ma~con, or Chianti type)

1 or more cups chicken stock

Buerre manie for the sauce (1 1/2 tablespoons each flour and softened butter blended to a paste)

Fresh parsley sprigs, or chopped parsleySTART NOTE don't add t his to analysis; noone will eat the sprigs, right?

Dry the chicken parts thoroughly, and brown in hot butter and oil. Remove to a side dish, leaving the fat in the pan.

Stir the onions into the pan and saute' over moderate heat until fairly tender, then raise heat and brown lightly. Drain in a sieve set over a bowl to remove excess fat.

Season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper; return it to the pan. Add the browned onions, and the garlic, bay, thyme, and tomato. Pour in the wine and enough stock barely to cover the ingredients. Bring to the simmer; cover, and simmer slowly 20 minutes, or until the chicken is tender when pressed.

Remove the chicken to a side dish, and taste the cooking liquid very carefully for strength and seasoning. Boil it down rapidly if it needs strength, adding seasonings as needed. Strain the sauce into a pan, pressing juices out of ingredients; degrease thoroughly.

Whisk the beurre manie into the sauce. It should be just thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. Wash out the casserole; return the chicken and sauce to it.

If you are not serving shortly, set aside uncovered. Or, for later serving, refrigerate uncovered. Cover when chilled.

Before serving, reheat, basting the chicken with the sauce; simmer a few minutes to rewarm nicely but not to overcook. Decorate with parsley and serve.

Per serving: 867 calories, 52 gm protein, 16 gm carbohydrates, 53 gm fat, 18 gm saturated fat, 262 mg cholesterol, 682 mg sodium.

GRATED POTATO GALLETTES (6 5-inch gallettes)

2 or 3 large "baking" potatoes, about 12 ounces each

Salt ( 1/3 teaspoon) and freshly ground pepper

Olive oil (2 1/2 tablespoons) or clarified butter

Scrub the potatoes under hot running water, then steam them for 12 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are almost but not quite cooked. In other words, they should not be floury -- after 12 minutes, pierce one with a sharp small knife, which should just penetrate. Cut one of the potatoes in half crosswise; if there is a raw central core, steam 2 or 3 minutes more. (If the central core is not cooked through it can discolor!) Let cool uncovered; the potatoes must be thoroughly cold before you grate them. (Boil the potatoes the day before so they will be cold for proper grating, and keep them slightly underdone.)

Peel the cold potatoes and rub through the large holes of the grater onto a baking sheet or tray. Toss lightly with salt and pepper, leaving them loosely massed; set aside until you are ready to continue.

Film a frying pan (Child suggests nonstick) with 1/8 inch of clarified butter or oil, and, when hot, spread in 1/2 to 2/3 cup of grated potato (the amount depends on how thick a galette you want). Saute' over moderate heat for 4 to 5 minutes, pressing the potatoes together lightly with a spatula, until the bottom has crusted and browned. Flip over, and saute to brown the other side a few minutes more. (If you don't have the courage to flip, brown the top under the broiler.) Transfer to a baking sheet, and keep warm while finishing the rest.

The galettes may be sauteed somewhat ahead. Set aside uncovered, at room temperature. Reheat briefly in a 425-degree oven.

Per serving: 98 calories, 1 gm protein, 11 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, .8 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 120 mg sodium.

CHOCOLATE SOUFFLE (8 servings)

7 ounces sweet baking chocolate, smoothly melted with 1/3 cup strong coffee

1/3 cup flour

2 cups milk

3 tablespoons butter, optional

Salt (1/16 tablespoon)

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

4 egg yolks

6 egg whites

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Confectioners' sugar, strained though a fine-meshed sieve, for sprinkling (1 tablespoon)

Whipped cream for accompaniment (optional)

Melt the chocolate, measure out all the other ingredients listed, butter the (2 to 2 1/2-quart) souffle' dish, surround it with a foil collar (fasten the collar with a straight pin), and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, whisk the flour and milk together and boil slowly over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, whisking. Off heat, whisk in the optional butter, the salt, and the vanilla, then the egg yolks, and finally the smoothly melted chocolate.

In a clean separate bowl with clean beaters, beat the egg whites to soft peaks, gradually sprinkle in the 1/2 cup sugar, and beat to stiff shining peaks.

Ladle the chocolate sauce base down the side of the egg-white bowl, rapidly fold the two mixtures together, and turn the souffle' into the prepared baking dish.

Set the souffle' in the lower level of the preheated oven and turn the thermostat down to 375 F.

In 35 to 40 minutes the souffle' will have puffed and risen an inch or so over the rim of the dish. Carefully slide the oven rack out and quickly sprinkle the top of the souffle' with confectioners' sugar, then finish the baking, and serve as directed; pass the optional whipped cream separately.

Per serving: 258 calories, 7 gm protein, 20 gm carbohydrates, 20 gm fat, 11 gm saturated fat, 147 mg cholesterol, 214 mg sodium.

SAUTEED CALF'S LIVER WITH WINE AND MUSTARD SAUCE (4 servings)

1 tablespoon Dijon-type prepared mustard

1/4 cup beef or chicken stock

1/4 cup dry white French vermouth

1 pound calf's liver sliced 1/2 inch thick

salt ( 1/4 teaspoon) and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup flour on a plate

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon minced shallot or scallion

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Whisk the mustard, stock, and vermouth in a small bowl. Season the liver with salt and pepper and dredge in flour, shaking off the excess. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over high heat, then saute' the liver, about 1 minute on each side. Remove to hot plates or a hot platter.

Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, add the remaining tablespoon of butter, and saute' the shallot or scallion in the pan for a moment; blend in the mustard mixture and simmer a moment or two, until the sauce has thickened lightly. Swirl in the parsley, spoon the sauce over the liver, and serve.

Per serving: 340 calories, 31 gm protein, 12 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 547 mg cholesterol, 354 mg sodium.


© 1989 The Washington Post Company