The doyenne of French cooking in America has moved beyond France.
"I've been stuck in the French rut for so long," Julia Child said. "But it's very limited."
That's why she and her husband, Paul, are on the road again. They arrived in Washington at 8 o'clock one night last week after a grueling daylong schedule in Philadelphia - but instead of ordering room service and aspirin, they took 20 minutes to "freshen up" and then were on their way to an interview and a 10-course Oriental dinner with five wines.
A new Asian restaurant in Georgetown was an appropriate setting. "I sort of started with French cooking and came through it, to be frank," Child said, as she deftly snared a piece of lemon chicken with her chopsticks. "It's invaluable because it has the rules. If you can do it, you can do anything."
And she has, in her new book, Julia Child & Company (Knopf, $15; $8.95 paper): Swedish gravlax, Boston baked bean, corned beef hash, flapjacks, scrapple, Indian pudding, bourbon-soaked chocolate truffles, pita bread, turkey casserole, chocolate chip spice and pound cake, Peking wings, corned beef and pork (cured without sodium nitrite).
Bowing to, or at least acknowledging, the revolutions in cooking that have followed the French phase in America, Child said, "We realize more and more people are watching their weight. A lot of classical cooking is more than we should eat these days. So our new book has things like turkey orloff," which is much less rich than the classical veal dish. She has also included a "Lo-Cal Banquet" menu, featuring chicken bouillabaisse with an appetizer of shrimp, green beans and sliced mushrooms.
Her remarks, which follow each of the menus and recipes, get to the heart of the matter: "Fake food - I mean those patented substances chemically flavored and mechanically bulked out to kill the appetite and deceive the gut - is unnatural, almost immoral a bane to food eating and good cooking.
"Of course Paul and I have to diet every non and then . . . eat less and enjoy it more than when we were young string beans. But some times we have absentminded or greedy spells, and the day comes when we start planning and get out the old notebook."
So the Childs - he is 76, she is 66 - count calories just like the rest of us. And when it comes to the oil-rich rouille, an essential accompaniment to bouillabaisse for which there is no low-calorie substitute, Child suggests: ". . . even a small dollop adds a voluptuous texture and hearty flavor to a serving of bouillabaisse. I find it more satisfying to take one piece of chicken, rather than two, and enjoy it with the rouille. "
But not to worry, French Chef fans, the book, which is based on, and was done concurrently with, Child's new television cooking series, has puff pastry - to be sure, a new, fast way - macedoine of fruits in champagne, asparagus tips in puff pastry, consomme brunoise and dozens of other French recipes.
Basically, however, this book is very different from the formal, and for some, formidable style of Child's two-volume classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It is written in the breezy fashion for which she became famous on television. It is informal, anecdotal, and much of the information is presented in a chatty style before - instead of within - the recipes. Which certainly makes these recipes a whole lot shorter than those in Mastering. (People are still talking about the 13 pages of instructions that accompanied her recipe for making French bread!)
Child feels that her followers already know the techniques and don't have to be told again. But she frequently refers to her other books, with page numbers so you can brush up on the method if you've forgotten.
She also thinks Americans have become quite knowledgeable about food. "The normal householder here is so much more interested in cooking and knows so much more about cooking than in France. Simca (Simone Beck, one of her collaborators for the Mastering volumes) says Americans may be preserving a lot of the French home cooking. The French housewife is not interested in home cooking as a hobby."
The new book, Child says, expresses the way she and her husband entertain. He is very much part of this book, mentioned one way or another in connection with almost every menu. Paul Child returns the compliment, giving his wife credit for his stamina at 76: "A darling wife and good food."
Actually they both agree that a promotion tour, even one of six weeks duration, is more fun than work. "This is more relaxing," Child said as she was about to sample the Vietnamese spring rolls at Germaine's They don't go to parties when they are on tour and accept very few evening engagements. "It's more of a vacation," Child said, "because we've worked everything out."
Everything that is except the dreadful food they encounter on occasion. Some of it is so bad that Child says "Sometimes I'd much rather have a MacDonald's hamburger than a rotten meal of terrible hotel food . . . all that packaged frozen food they use."
Dinner at Germaine's, however, was more in the nature of a busman's holiday. Because the first thing Child wanted to see, after she inspected the dining room, was the kitchen. She asked about its designer, inspected the huge gas-fired rice steamers, which she had never seen before and was fascinated to her Germaine Swanson, who is Vietnamese, say that she used soybean oil instead of peanut oil because it is lighter.
A discussion ensued about the relative merits of Long Island versus French duck for Peking duck; Swanson's use of seaweed around the spring rolls (her own invention) and what would be done with all the leftover rice. "Asians don't throw anything away," Swanson said. "Just like the French," Child noted. She told Swanson about a very ordinary meal she, her husband and Elizabeth Bishop - who travels with them and acts as assistant cook - had in a well-known Chinese restaurant in New York.
"I think it's because we're American. Won't you," she asked Swanson, who speaks several languages including Chinese, "give me a card written in Chinese, which says, "Give this party real Chinese food!"
The kind of behind-the-scenes chatter Child had with Swanson is much like what she provides in her book. The reader meets all of the people associated with Child's series in glorious technicolor. Even if you don't like to cook, you'll love to look at the pictures.
But you don't have to see Child's 13-week TV series to cook from the book. Child and Company are so pleased with the results they are planning another 13-week series and accompanying text.
After that, Child said she'd sort of like to retire and become the "Mrs. Alistair Cooke" of television cooking programs. "What I've always wanted to have since I started 15 years ago is a half hour PBS cooking show: 26 different half hours with different cooks. I think it's time for some new cooks, don't you?"
The following recipes have been adapted from the "Julia Child & Company" cookbook:
(6 servings) 4 cups thinly shredded cabbage 1/2 cup each diced green pepper, diced celery, grated carrot, minced scallions or purple onion 1 small apple, grated 3 tablespoons fresh minced parsley 2 tablespoons each wine vinegar and fresh lemon juice 1 tablespoon Dijon-type prepared mustard 1 1/2 teaspoons each salt and sugar 2 pulverized imported bay leaves 1/2 teaspoon caraway or cumin seed 1/3 to 1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise, or sour cream or a mixture.
Toss together the cabbage, vegetables, apple and parsley. Combine the other ingredients to make dressing; toss with the cabbage mixture, taste carefully, correct seasoning and toss again. Tase again; cover and refrigerate for several hours.
BOURBON-SOAKED CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
(Makes 12 to 18 pieces) 7 ounces semisweet baking chocolate 1 ounce unsweetned baking chocolate 4 tablespoons bourbon whiskey or dark Jamaican rum 2 tablespoons strong coffee 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces 6 ounces best-quality gingersnaps (to make 3/4 cup pulverized) 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 1/4 cup powdered instant coffee Paper or foil candycups
Break up the two chocolates and place in a small saucepan with the bourbon or rum and the liquid coffee. Cover, set chocolate pan in a larger pan of boiling water and turn off the heat under it. When chocolate is melted and smooth, in 5 minutes or so, beat in the butter piece by piece (a portable electric mixer is useful here), then the pulverized ginger snaps. Chill for several hours.
Mix the cocoa powder with the powdered coffee and spread on a plate. With a soup spoon or teaspoon, depending on the size you wish, dig out gobs of the chocolate mixture and form into rough, roundish, rocklike, trufflelike shapes. Roll in the cocoa and coffee powder and place in candy or cookie cups. Refrigerate in a covered container until serving time.
Truffles may be kept under refrigeration for several weeks or frozen.