An Interview with Julia Child by Fern Berman

2010

Fern Berman: So many people are working longer hours today. As a result, they cook less and less. What can they make when they get home that doesn't take a lot of time?
Julia Child: Salads are always a wonderful thing to make. Or a simple piece of fish, broiled and seasoned with fresh herbs or spices. There is always the hamburger or you can grill a simple piece of meat. The key is to learn the basics so cooking isn't a chore. It's really very easy to cook. And with a glass of wine at the end of the day, putting together simple tastes in your kitchen is such a wonderful thing.

FB: What are the most important cooking tools one should have in their kitchen?
JC: Knives. And knowing how to sharpen them. Good pots and pans designed for use. There are so many that are not made for practical use.

FB: What are the basics to stock a pantry?
JC: Eggs and butter. Olive oil. Always have grated cheese in the refrigerator to sprinkle. And a bag of mixed cheeses. Carrots, onions, and potatoes. Milk and crème fraîche, which I make myself. Then just wait to see what comes in. Oh, also have some bread in the freezer, put it in as soon as it's completely cooled.

FB: What do you think about microwaves?
JC: They're very useful. I finally worked out a way that potatoes can be cooked: by poking holes in them and cooking them in the microwave for 6 to 7 minutes. Then open them up and finish them off in the oven with a little salt and pepper, some butter, and grated cheese. And bread machines? Aren't you going to ask me about bread machines?

FB: Well, as a matter of fact, I wasn't. But okay, what about bread machines?
JC: Well, at Laura Brody's, she brought me down to her basement and had 17 bread machines throbbing on the floor! I think they are useful for making dough. It makes it so easy without making a mess. Take it out for a rise and put it back for a second rise. Then bake it in the oven. I don't like how they bake in the machines. I don't like how it looks. The crumbs are too coarse and the crust is tough. But some people like that.

FB: And food processors?
JC: Can't do without them. Once the food processor came into the kitchen it made many things possible. It's easy to make mousse. A dish like Mushroom Duxelles used to take so much time. Now it's so easy to make with the help of food processors. And a blender. You need both a blender and a food processor.

FB: When people are cooking for others for say, a dinner party — and I know it happens to me too — they become tense and nervous. What should they keep in mind in the kitchen? JC: If you're giving a party don't try something new. Slowly start enlarging your vocabulary.

FB: But couldn’t disaster strike at any time?
JC: Pay attention. Always have a kitchen timer. I get distracted, but a kitchen timer will always remind me. The more experience you have, the more you're able to deal with mishaps.

FB: What advice would you give an aspiring chef?
JC: Get the best possible training. [The] CIA is the Harvard of them all. Then try to work in the best restaurant in town. Be willing to do anything. Don't expect to come in as a sous chef. Start out as a dishwasher! Have some humility no matter how much training you have. People who need stroking are hard to work with. And above all be nice!

FB: And what about an aspiring cookbook author?
JC: Know your stuff and get yourself known. There is so much competition. Get yourself in the local newspapers. Do charity events. Belong to the IACP — it's good for, as they say, "networking;" good for getting to know everybody. It's a wonderful — what's the word for it? — Unisex fraternity? Everyone knows everybody. Be fun. Be helpful. Be generous.

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FB: Do you agree that people are now getting serious about the art and business of cooking?
JC: Yes, finally they are offering the first Masters Degrees in gastronomy at Boston University. It's hard to convince academics that it's a real profession. Food is terribly important, anthropologically and in many other ways.

FB: What do you like to see happen when you go to a restaurant?
JC: First, I like it to smell good coming in. Then I look for a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere. I don't like to be fawned over but I think it's a terrible thing in a restaurant if you don't like it coming in. I like lighter restaurants, ones that aren't too dark. Sometimes it's too dark [and] you can't see. Classic French restaurants are brighter so you can see what you're eating. I also don't like a plate piled with food. That's feeding rather than dining. I like to see what the main dish is about with a little garnish. It's also nice when the chef offers something free. It shows how generous he is. It's always nice. Oh, and good wines by the glass. That has been a real breakthrough. Some great wines can be offered. Wineglasses should be big enough — not too oversized but not tiny. And I don't like noisy restaurants. I like to have a nice conversation over my meal.

FB: What are your passions other than cooking?
JC: Friends. Then I like theater; art galleries; The American Institute of Wine & Food. Golf.

FB: Golf?
JC: Yes, I haven't golfed in a few years. I can't find the time. But the greens fees are so expensive! Pebble Beach is $200 an hour! Amazing — it used to be $2 at the public course.

FB: You've had such an illustrious career. What are you most proud of?
JC: Oh my. Among the many things, I think my work with French bread. Making it possible in the home kitchen. Lining the oven with quarry tile. Now everybody does it. I think I was one of the first people to do it.

FB: What about the new culinary trends, like fusion cooking? What do you think about it?
JC: If they know what they are doing, fine. The way Jean-Georges Vongerichten mixes Asian with French. He knows how to do it. If you're doing something just to be creative it might not work.

FB: What do you think about Mediterranean cooking?
JC: It sells a lot of olive oil.

FB: I have to ask this — what is your favorite ingredient?
JC: (With a big laugh) Butter.

FB: Can you sum up your philosophy on eating?
JC: At the AIWF we say moderation, small helpings and a great variety of foods is a great precept. A lot of restaurants are serving enormous portions. It's not sensible if you want to keep weight control. But most of all, have a good time!