Laura Lehrman: Your newest book written with Jacques Pépin was just released in October 1999, and now only a couple of months later, it's already on bestseller lists all over the country. Congratulations! What do you think are some of the reasons for its instant popularity?
Julia Child: I think that it's a beautiful book. The packaging is so appealing and the whole book is good to look at. The format accounts for its popularity also. Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home is different conceptually from other cookbooks - offering two opinions on how to make the same dish. Each of us has our personal points of view and these complement each other. I'm delighted that people like the book. I think that they think it's an unusual book. It's a 'good eating type book' filled with recipes of food that people like to cook and eat.
LL: What do you like best about the process of creating a cookbook? What aspects do you like least?
JC: Creating a book is interesting and creative. I like the whole process of making cooking make sense. In the case of this book, it allowed me to talk about the food that I like. Working on a cookbook is fun to do. What I like least about it is the difficult part - proofreading. You look at the words so much that everything starts swimming before your eyes. You have to think hard and visualize what it all is going to look like as a finished product. It takes a great deal of concentration.
LL: Both you and Jacques are seasoned pros at the art of making cookbooks. How has the process changed throughout the years?
JC:The computer makes all the difference. When I first started writing cookbooks, I used an old clickety clack typewriter and had to make and correct six perfectly correct carbon copies for submission. It was real work. I don't know how we did it. With a computer, it's remarkable, making clean, beautiful copies to give to your editors. There's no comparison to the way it used to be.
LL: Everyone whom I have talked to about your new television show, "Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home" says that it is clear that the two of you had a great time working together on this project. Would you tell our readers about some of your favorite moments making this show with Jacques?
JC: We just had a good time doing things. It's wonderful for a home cook to work with a professional. You learn things that as a non-pro you wouldn't have thought of. For example, seeing how Jacques poaches eggs was interesting. We just had fun and a nice time doing things together.
LL: You are both as experienced at the art of teaching and entertaining on air as you are at making cooking understandable and fun through your writings. A large percentage of StarChefs readers are professional chefs as well as culinary students as well as people considering the possibility of becoming food professionals. What advice can you give people who think that they may want to start working on their own cooking show?
JC: You have to really, really know your subject. Don't try to present too many possibilities; it becomes too confusing to viewers. You need to say to yourself, "This is the way we're going to do it." Make it clear that it's not the only way, but one way. Remember that it's a visual medium and you have to visualize what you're doing as you're doing it. It's teaching on television and there shouldn't be too much talking, just enough. Of course you need visuals to go with the verbal part. You can't be philosophical (that's for writing). Television is for seeing and hearing. I think being lively and enthusiastic is important. You can't be dull and pedantic. TV is a marvelous teaching medium because you have both the visual and audio together. Definitely know your subject inside out. Enjoy it and love your work. The culinary business must be fun to you or you wouldn't be in it. It's a challenging adventure.
LL: In general, what are some basic cooking tips that you suggest for the start-up cook, someone who is motivated to cook but never has?
What should this start-up cook have in the pantry? What cooking equipment? What other cookbooks besides Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home?
JC: Read the recipe. Read it in a creative way as though you're actually doing it. Have a conception about what the recipe is about. Don't just go sentence by sentence. It should go into your "computer" and become part of you. Cooking is a collection or group of techniques. Once you have peeled, seeded and juiced a tomato, you will always know how to do it. Once you have sautéed meat, it becomes second nature. Once you've executed a certain technique, you never have to read those instructions again. It just becomes part of you.
Equipment? Definitely sharp knives and a sharpening steel and know how to use it. You should have a chef's knife for chopping, about a 9-inch long blade and a medium and small knife. You can't do anything if you don't have good knives. You'll need a good frying pan, 10 inches across the top with slanting sides and an 8 inch bottom as well as an all-purpose saucepan, heavy aluminum with Teflon lining and a 2 ½ to 3 quart saucepan. You should have a kettle for soup. You only need a few things and then you can add on as you go. Get good solid equipment. I never buy a set of things. Buy one at a time and see how you like them. Go shopping with someone who is a good cook and that person will be a big help to you.
Pantry? Good olive oil, butter, wine vinegar, salt and pepper and a pepper grinder, a few herbs - fresh thyme, rosemary, parsley. I always have a bottle of Italian seasoning. Shallots, eggs, I use dry white vermouth as a white wine to have on hand because it keeps in the refrigerator unlike plain white wine. You'll need the makings of things - canned chicken broth in case you want to make soup, tomato paste and I hope you have a lot of other things on hand and foods coming into your refrigerator.
Cookbooks? The old Joy of Cooking which is a very good all-purpose American book, Larousse Gastronomique for French cooking, for Italian - Marcella Hazan or Lynne Rossetto Kasper and of course, I have my own books such as The Way To Cook.
LL: We at StarChefs receive many letters asking all kinds of questions about choosing culinary institutions after high school, after college and/or from career changers. What advice do you have for them?
JC: For professional training, the Culinary Institute of America is very, very good. Also, The French Culinary Institute in New York is marvelous - not just for learning contemporary French cooking, but for French techniques , which I think, are the best. I don't really know a lot of the schools. There's New England Culinary and a good school in San Francisco. There's a new school in Southern California in South Pasadena. I suggest that people look at the Shaw Guide To Cooking Schools. It's very useful. Visit the schools and talk to the people who work and go there. Certainly, if possible, cook with friends who are good cooks. Do anything to be around people who know about cooking - wash dishes, peel potatoes. Be there to watch and learn. TV shows can be very helpful. Start cooking yourself.
LL: Finally, would you be kind enough to tell us what you would like viewers and readers to learn from "Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home," the television show and the accompanying book?
JC: I think I would like people to learn about the joy of cooking. They should discover that there are many ways of reaching the same goal. Learn the technique and go at it. Don't be slavish to recipes. Do it and have a good time. When you know the techniques, you can really enjoy cooking. Learn as much as you can. Take pride in what you're doing, like in your knife work. Cooking is a great profession and a great hobby. It gives you pleasure and everyone else who gets to share in your efforts.