By Julia Pantoga
You may harbor the fantasy that your domestic goddess spends her days cooking and reading cookbooks (I sometimes entertain that fantasy, too), but that is far from the case. Actually, I am in graduate school and I spend most of my time reading and writing. Truthfully, those of you with children or spouses at home probably spend more time cooking and planning meals than I do.
Anyhow, once every two weeks or so, about six of us students take a break from our studying and watch two episodes of “The French Chef” starring Julia Child, from the DVD set I was given for my birthday. This is high entertainment, especially for those of us who scrutinize cooking shows regularly and spend a fair amount of time in our own kitchens.
The first thing I noticed when we started watching is that the age spots on Julia Child’s hands are plainly visible. Does the Food Network use hand models or do all their actor-cooks have perfect hands? The next thing I noticed is how Julia Child dresses in the kitchen: she wears her glasses and an apron and tucks a towel into her apron ties. Hey, that’s how I look in the kitchen! I thought I was the only one who doesn’t wear fashionable clothes that flatter my figure and reveal cleavage when I bend down to taste the broth.
Speaking of tasting, we just about died laughing when Julia Child tasted her potato dish, then returned her tasting spoon to the drawer!
Not only does Julia Child wear a sensible apron in the kitchen, she wipes onion juice off the counter, splashes milk on the stovetop when she pours it and has to put a casserole on the dryer to cool because she has run out of counter space. Remember, this was the first cooking TV show, before the invention of such familiar TV tricks as turning the camera off for clean-ups, multiple takes and advance space planning.
The best cooking show on TV today (in my opinion) is America’s Test Kitchen (ATK). Although the chefs wear appropriate attire in the kitchen, even they edit out their mistakes. I once saw one of the ATK chefs live at a bookstore, where she was promoting a cookbook and she summed it up this way: “Of course we always cook 10 of the same things at once. Turkeys are cheap. Television crews are not.”
You wouldn’t watch “The French Chef” today to learn how to cook; it’s really dated. For example, no one, but the most skilled professional, would cut ten cups of onions by hand today. Most of us would drag our food processors out. The amount of butter and cream used is laughable to our cholesterol conscious eyes and Child talks at length about how to take care of a carbide steel knife, which I have never even seen. But these old shows are amusing and I can pick up tips from watching anyone in the kitchen. (Did you know you can poach eggs ahead of time and store them in water in the refrigerator for future use?) Most of all, it was terribly re-assuring for me to see that other people look a bit dorky in the kitchen and spill, drop and splatter things too.