Julia Child’s Legacy: Magic in the Kitchen

One of Julia's favorites: tender escargots bobbing in garlicky butter!

I. These chickens are “so chickeny!!!”

Just before we went on our Paris and Provence trip, I started reading “My Life in France” by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book, it is a collection of stories recounting in detail the culinary experiences Julia and her husband enjoyed while living in France. I found it rather curious that I was about the same age as Julia when she first moved to France (in her late 30’s); and as I was following along, involuntarily I found myself comparing my reactions to hers. To my disappointment, next to her spontaneous, excited, persevering, restless, enterprising, and always joyous “virtual” personality, my enthusiasm for gastronomy seemed flat.

Granted, my French experience was not nearly as eye-opening as for her. I was a seasoned traveler with several prior visits to France under my belt, well versed in the high art of Food (yes, in France cooking is regarded as a combination of national sport and high art):

a thing of French beauty at L'Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel in Arles

Yet, I could not help but envy her giddiness, her falling in love with la belle France, her first morsel of perfection (sole meuniere)…

II.  “Anyone can cook in the French manner anywhere with the right instruction.”

It is absolutely astounding how devoted Julia Child was to the rules of “la cuisine francaise”. She and her fellow “gourmettes” believed in a scholarly approach, with a strong emphasis on skill and technique. Quite different from “fast and effortless cooking” marketing scheme so ubiquitous nowadays…

I am a queen of culinary shortcuts and cheating. I am not a cookbook/recipe person, and usually reserve precision for my financial analyses. As a result, the simplest dishes (such as a perfect omelet) terrify me. But, not unlike Holly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, I could totally whip up a “roasted pheasant stuffed with pomegranates and persimmons”.

My favorite tricks: truffles, butter, scallops...LOTS of room for error!

And so, after reading the book I was inspired to challenge myself, and to attempt the so-called “flat French omelet”. The proper way.

I watched a couple of Julia Child’s original TV episodes, and learned the following:

  1. It is all in the wrist (and I don’t mean the whipping up of the eggs, as she simply used chopsticks to blend the yolk and the white). I am talking about the perfect motion of rigorously moving the eggs up and down the sides of the pan during the 20 seconds it takes to make a perfect omelet. Also, it helps to have the right pan (here goes my disdain for gadgets).
  2. Have no fear. You have to have the confidence to crank up the heat to HIGH.

Making this beautiful omelet took SEVERAL tries; that was a true lesson in humility. But for a perfectionist, such as Julia Child, nothing less would do. My fourth simple flat French omelet (omelette nature) turned out glorious, – silky, airy, moist, and rich. It was almost like magic: it tasted as if it were full of luxurious ingredients, like whipped cream.

And yet, it only contained two eggs, salt, pepper and water…

I felt that it could only be improved upon by a morel cream sauce because takeaway number three is:

III. Keep oneself open to creative exploration, because “the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite – toujours bon appétit!”

omelette aux morilles