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Thread: Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch

  1. #1
    Ubiquitous Guest

    Default Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch

    By MICHAEL POLLAN
    Published: July 29, 2009

    I was only 8 when “The French Chef” first appeared on American
    television in 1963, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that this
    Julia Child had improved the quality of life around our house. My mother
    began cooking dishes she’d watched Julia cook on TV: boeuf bourguignon
    (the subject of the show’s first episode), French onion soup gratinée,
    duck à l’orange, coq au vin, mousse au chocolat. Some of the more
    ambitious dishes, like the duck or the mousse, were pointed toward
    weekend company, but my mother would usually test these out on me and my
    sisters earlier in the week, and a few of the others — including the
    boeuf bourguignon, which I especially loved — actually made it into
    heavy weeknight rotation. So whenever people talk about how Julia Child
    upgraded the culture of food in America, I nod appreciatively. I owe
    her. Not that I didn’t also owe Swanson, because we also ate TV dinners,
    and those were pretty good, too.

    Every so often I would watch “The French Chef” with my mother in the
    den. On WNET in New York, it came on late in the afternoon, after
    school, and because we had only one television back then, if Mom wanted
    to watch her program, you watched it, too. The show felt less like TV
    than like hanging around the kitchen, which is to say, not terribly
    exciting to a kid (except when Child dropped something on the floor,
    which my mother promised would happen if we stuck around long enough)
    but comforting in its familiarity: the clanking of pots and pans, the
    squeal of an oven door in need of WD-40, all the kitchen-chemistry-set
    spectacles of transformation. The show was taped live and broadcast
    uncut and unedited, so it had a vérité feel completely unlike anything
    you might see today on the Food Network, with its A.D.H.D. editing and
    hyperkinetic soundtracks of rock music and clashing knives. While Julia
    waited for the butter foam to subside in the sauté pan, you waited, too,
    precisely as long, listening to Julia’s improvised patter over the hiss
    of her pan, as she filled the desultory minutes with kitchen tips and
    lore. It all felt more like life than TV, though Julia’s voice was like
    nothing I ever heard before or would hear again until Monty Python came
    to America: vaguely European, breathy and singsongy, and weirdly
    suggestive of a man doing a falsetto impression of a woman. The BBC
    supposedly took “The French Chef” off the air because viewers wrote in
    complaining that Julia Child seemed either drunk or demented.

    Meryl Streep, who brings Julia Child vividly back to the screen in Nora
    Ephron’s charming new comedy, “Julie & Julia,” has the voice down, and
    with the help of some clever set design and cinematography, she manages
    to evoke too Child’s big-girl ungainliness — the woman was 6 foot 2 and
    had arms like a longshoreman. Streep also captures the deep sensual
    delight that Julia Child took in food — not just the eating of it (her
    virgin bite of sole meunière at La Couronne in Rouen recalls Meg Ryan’s
    deli orgasm in “When Harry Met Sally”) but the fondling and affectionate
    slapping of ingredients in their raw state and the magic of their
    kitchen transformations.

    But “Julie & Julia” is more than an exercise in nostalgia. As the title
    suggests, the film has a second, more contemporary heroine. The Julie
    character (played by Amy Adams) is based on Julie Powell, a 29-year-old
    aspiring writer living in Queens who, casting about for a blog conceit
    in 2002, hit on a cool one: she would cook her way through all 524
    recipes in Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 365 days and
    blog about her adventures. The movie shuttles back and forth between
    Julie’s year of compulsive cooking and blogging in Queens in 2002 and
    Julia’s decade in Paris and Provence a half-century earlier, as
    recounted in “My Life in France,” the memoir published a few years after
    her death in 2004. Julia Child in 1949 was in some ways in the same boat
    in which Julie Powell found herself in 2002: happily married to a really
    nice guy but feeling, acutely, the lack of a life project. Living in
    Paris, where her husband, Paul Child, was posted in the diplomatic
    corps, Julia (who like Julie had worked as a secretary) was at a loss as
    to what to do with her life until she realized that what she liked to do
    best was eat. So she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu and learned how to cook.
    As with Julia, so with Julie: cooking saved her life, giving her a
    project and, eventually, a path to literary success.

    That learning to cook could lead an American woman to success of any
    kind would have seemed utterly implausible in 1949; that it is so
    thoroughly plausible 60 years later owes everything to Julia Child’s
    legacy. Julie Powell operates in a world that Julia Child helped to
    create, one where food is taken seriously, where chefs have been
    welcomed into the repertory company of American celebrity and where
    cooking has become a broadly appealing mise-en-scène in which success
    stories can plausibly be set and played out. How amazing is it that we
    live today in a culture that has not only something called the Food
    Network but now a hit show on that network called “The Next Food Network
    Star,” which thousands of 20- and 30-somethings compete eagerly to
    become? It would seem we have come a long way from Swanson TV dinners.

    The Food Network can now be seen in nearly 100 million American homes
    and on most nights commands more viewers than any of the cable news
    channels. Millions of Americans, including my 16-year-old son, can tell
    you months after the finale which contestant emerged victorious in
    Season 5 of “Top Chef” (Hosea Rosenberg, followed by Stefan Richter, his
    favorite, and Carla Hall). The popularity of cooking shows — or perhaps
    I should say food shows — has spread beyond the precincts of public or
    cable television to the broadcast networks, where Gordon Ramsay
    terrorizes newbie chefs on “Hell’s Kitchen” on Fox and Jamie Oliver is
    preparing a reality show on ABC in which he takes aim at an American
    city with an obesity problem and tries to teach the population how to
    cook. It’s no wonder that a Hollywood studio would conclude that
    American audiences had an appetite for a movie in which the road to
    personal fulfillment and public success passes through the kitchen and
    turns, crucially, on a recipe for boeuf bourguignon. (The secret is to
    pat dry your beef before you brown it.)

    But here’s what I don’t get: How is it that we are so eager to watch
    other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to
    brown them ourselves? For the rise of Julia Child as a figure of
    cultural consequence — along with Alice Waters and Mario Batali and
    Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse and whoever is crowned the next Food
    Network star — has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food,
    home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home
    cooking.

    That decline has several causes: women working outside the home; food
    companies persuading Americans to let them do the cooking; and advances
    in technology that made it easier for them to do so. Cooking is no
    longer obligatory, and for many people, women especially, that has been
    a blessing. But perhaps a mixed blessing, to judge by the culture’s
    continuing, if not deepening, fascination with the subject. It has been
    easier for us to give up cooking than it has been to give up talking
    about it — and watching it.

    Continued...
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/ma....html?_r=2&hpw

    --
    It is simply breathtaking to watch the glee and abandon with which
    the liberal media and the Angry Left have been attempting to turn
    our military victory in Iraq into a second Vietnam quagmire. Too bad
    for them, it's failing.


  2. #2
    Christine Dabney Guest

    Default Re: Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch

    On Sun, 02 Aug 2009 23:05:50 -0400, Ubiquitous <[email protected]>
    wrote:

    >By MICHAEL POLLAN
    >Published: July 29, 2009


    This is the article to which I gave a link, early this morning, in my
    post titled An Interesting Article...

    Christine
    --
    http://nightstirrings.blogspot.com

  3. #3
    Captain Infinity Guest

    Default Re: Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch

    Once Upon A Time,
    Ubiquitous wrote:

    >Every so often I would watch “The French Chef” with my mother in the
    >den. On WNET in New York, it came on late in the afternoon, after
    >school, and because we had only one television back then, if Mom wanted
    >to watch her program, you watched it, too. The show felt less like TV
    >than like hanging around the kitchen, which is to say, not terribly
    >exciting to a kid (except when Child dropped something on the floor,
    >which my mother promised would happen if we stuck around long enough)


    I especially liked the episode where she cut her finger off and started
    gushing blood all over the kitchen. That was HILARIOUS! But then she
    made that *terrible* movie "Nothing but Trouble" and I totally lost
    interest in her, what a disaster that was.


    **
    Captain Infinity

  4. #4
    sf Guest

    Default Re: Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch

    On Sun, 02 Aug 2009 23:05:50 -0400, Ubiquitous <[email protected]>
    wrote:

    > So whenever people talk about how Julia Child
    >upgraded the culture of food in America, I nod appreciatively. I owe
    >her. Not that I didn’t also owe Swanson, because we also ate TV dinners,
    >and those were pretty good, too.


    I agreed with you up to the Swanson's part. The only dinner I liked
    was their chicken dinner. The rest were putrid.

    --
    I love cooking with wine.
    Sometimes I even put it in the food.

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