Happy Birthday Julia Child

English: American cook, author, and television...

English: American cook, author, and television personality (August 15, 1912 - August 13, 2004). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today Julia Child would be 102, and were she still alive to celebrate it, no doubt she would toast the occasion with a decadent Lobster Thermidor served with a chilled glass of pinot blanc.  When she died in 2004, the world recognized the loss of a tireless culinary and cultural visionary who reshaped the way Americans think about food.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961 and brought about a sea change in American cuisine. The hefty 761-page tome is filled with over five hundred classic French recipes of varying degrees of complexity. To render these meals accessible to the average American home cook, Child took great care to painstakingly explain each step so that anyone willing to follow the directions could replicate a gourmet meal.  Child knew firsthand that through endless practice and relentless attention to detail one could master the epitome of grand cuisine.  Indeed, reading through the book reveals an author devoted to sharing best practices and takes care not to speak down to her readers, writing with a passion that ensured her everlasting popularity. Tastes have changed in forty years, and some dishes (aspics, perhaps?) may have fallen out of style, but Mastering remains a wonderful kitchen resource for basic knife techniques, identifying cuts of meat and providing measurement equivalents.  I find her charts for timing for hard-boiled eggs and pan-fried steaks never fail. 

After the success of Mastering, Child continued to write, and published nineteen books on cooking and baking throughout the rest of her career. There were also thirteen television series, starting in 1963 with The French Chef, for which she received a Peabody Award in 1965. TV Guide even named her one of television's greatest stars to ever grace the small screen.

The kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Child prepared countless meals is as iconic as the woman herself. Husband Paul Child had specifically designed the countertops to accommodate his wife's impressive six-foot two inch frame. When she moved to California in 2001, Child donated the kitchen to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.  Child considered kitchens to be the "beating heart and social center of the household," and in hers sought to enlighten our palates while taming Americans' fear of butter and cream. As she said in a 1990 interview with The New York Times, "We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life."