Totally baked

A few generations got their first taste of Julia Child through Saturday Night Live. In the late '70s, one of Dan Aykroyd's most popular impersonations was of the trilling, stoic female chef; she (or rather he, in gruesome drag) walked SNL viewers through the preparation of a turkey when -- oops -- her knife slipped. Cheerful as ever, Aykroyd's Child spewed crimson blood all over the set as she calmly turned the accident into a tangential lesson: how to dress a kitchen wound. Only, the blood bath was so violent, her attempt was hilariously futile.

A bit sacrilegious to those who entered adult domesticity with the real Child as the main muse of the kitchen, circa 1950s through the '70s. Child's televised cooking shows, beginning with The French Chef in 1961, were a boon for the eager homemaker. While Child's dishes were usually far from easy, her way of teaching her viewers how to prepare them was always clear and concise, making the most petulant soufflé or testy hollandaise behave. Her background may be in the elitist French culinary arts, but her manner is ever approachable. Around 6 feet tall, low-voiced, and quite witty, she has commanded the respect of the mostly male Cordon Bleu contingent and the affection of home cooks everywhere.

The 87-year-old Child has certainly been to Dallas a few times; one of her more notorious appearances happened a couple of years ago at the Dallas Museum of Art's Seventeen-Seventeen restaurant. Hundreds of DMA members paid dearly for tickets to a swanky promotional dinner -- thinking they were buying the company of Child herself -- when they found themselves in a separate dining room watching Child eat her meal with the chefs and museum bigwigs via video monitor. Boy, were they pissed off. "Bon appétit my ass," they muttered.

Now, the chance for her to make amends is upon Child's snubbed Dallas following. This Friday and Saturday, Child will make another appearance in Dallas to promote her newest book, Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home. Jacques Pepin, the favorite French television chef, is her collaborator on this one, and he'll be around for the Friday appearance at Eatzi's; Child will hit Sur La Table on Saturday sans sidekick. The book is a companion to a 22-part PBS series beginning this month.

Child's books, in fact, are bibles of kitchen science. Mastering the Art of French Cooking demystified an otherwise intimidating genre, and The Way to Cook is one of the most popular cook books of all time (and thick enough to keep an amateur chef happy for years). Her honesty and cut-through-the-crap philosophies anchor the recipes. "I, for one, would much rather swoon over a few thin slices of prime beef steak, or one small serving of chocolate mousse, or a sliver of foie gras, than indulge to the full on such nonentities as fat-free gelatin puddings," she writes.

"Because of media hype and woefully inadequate information, too many people nowadays are deathly afraid of their food, and what does fear of food do to the digestive system? I am sure that an unhappy or suspicious stomach, constricted and uneasy with worry, cannot digest properly, and if digestion is poor, the whole body politic suffers."

N'est-ce pas?

Christina Rees

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Christina Rees