Thursday, September 17, 2009

A ‘French Chef’ Whose Appeal Doesn’t Translate -

This NY Times piece about how the French are largely unaware of Julia Child reminded me that she wasn't always "all that" in American professional kitchens either. When I began my professional cooking career in 1981, most of the people I met were who had been working in kitchens for a while were either dismissive of her, or in some instances hostile.

Rene Chardin, a chef born in Champagne, France and for whom I worked from 1982-83, often teased me by comparing my technique to Julia Child's. In the 1990's when I was teaching at the New York Restaurant School, there was an instructor there who had been a sous chef at the Rainbow Room when Julia Child came in to do a spot as a guest chef. Jim (not his real name) told me that the kitchen staff thought she was a joke; a home cook that did not belong in a professional kitchen. They called her "shoemaker" behind her back and some refused to work with her.

Of course, my anecdotal experience does not prove that anti-Julia sentiment was widespread in American professional kitchens, but I'm certain that there was more of it then than now.

A ‘French Chef’ Whose Appeal Doesn’t Translate -


Jasonmolinari said...

I didn't think Julia ever meant to be a restaurant chef, just a home cook, so the comments that she wasn't good in a professional kitchen seem a little unfair.

Ed Bruske said...

Then there was Richard Olney, who really couldn't stand her, thought she was an interloper. But there was a good deal of jealousy there over her incredibly celebrity.

natalie sztern said...

i agree with Jasonmolinari - her appeal was that she was a home cook - with quite a bit of learned knowledge, perhaps with a pinch of self-taught; did any body think of her as a Chef? She got people into the kitchen; cooking and talking about food.

Carrie said...

I'm sure her gender played into the lack of respect. But it's not surprising to me that professional cooks would look down on Julia Child even now. There's a sort of fraternity that exists among those who have slaved away in a professional kitchen. The impression I get is that you have to earn your way into the respect of these people through blood, sweat and tears, not how well you can saute. Even waiting tables at my local Chili's I saw that going on! If some famous chef who had never actually run a line showed up in our kitchen it would have been ugly. And we're talking the lowest of low actual food quality standards here.

That said, I'm willing to bet Julia would have told them to shove it up their derrieres.