I'll gladly admit it: I'm a nostalgia freak. If I don't answer my phone immediately, it's because I'm gorging on the video I.V. drip of YouTube, jaw slackened as I watch old interviews with fave bands from the bell-bottomed '70s.
That same penchant for the grainy imaged past plunks me down on the sofa at around 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays to get my daily fix of the Cooking Channel's resurrection of The French Chef -- a.k.a. the incomparable Julia Child.
Of course, there is all that familiar chirpy charm of Julia, from her first warbling of the show's disarmingly simple title as the dorky soundtrack bounces in the background. But several recent viewings of Madame Child have acted as an essential reminder of why she is rightly chiseled into the Mount Rushmore of televised cooking pedagogy.
All her shows last barely 30 minutes. Yet, in a recent episode, bearing the humorous title "Meat Loaf Masquerade" next to its more formal French title, "Pate en Croute," Child managed to squeeze more serious Cordon Bleu-worthy instruction, with bits of whimsical and batty banter and even a small filmed segment of Julia in her beloved France, in less time than it takes Emeril to "bam" and banter with his band, or Bobby Flay to fire up his grill.
Recently resurrecting my long-embalmed habit of watching Julia Child, I'm reminded of how sincerely unaffected she was. There wasn't an ounce of artificial shtick to her small-screen persona. In a recent episode, she refers to the revered black truffle as "a little black thing." And no matter how hard they might labor at it, no current Food Network star, all 'tude, tattoos and hair gel, can approach Child's irresistible everyday-chef quality -- especially on display when her tongue gets all tangled up in pounds and ounces, or with frou-frou ingredients to the point where she just sighs: "Heavens, I can't figure that out."
These French Chef broadcasts might be more than 40 years old but don't be surprised if you can barely keep up with the animated, aproned Julia. Here's Julia, for the recent pate en croute segment, mixing ground veal and pork together along with a generous marbling of goose and chicken fat -- all in a blur of dexterous fingers. Then, she's off to glug several cups of Cognac into the meaty mass. But where is she now? Oh, she's there, brandishing a garlic press like some medieval implement, so as to squeeze the life out of a couple of defenseless cloves.
And then she's in another corner of her avocado-tinted kitchen, hauling out the anachronistic bottles of dried allspice and thyme, which she cutely spells out for the audience, as in "t-h-y-m-e."
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Just as I was catching my breath, Julia and I were motoring along a French country lane to visit a French master pate maker who would demonstrate how to fill the savory pastry dough (or croute) with the meat mixture. The only hitch was that her guest French pate master could only describe his art in French.
No matter, as Julia simultaneously translated everything the officious French chef had to say (from grams into pounds. Bien sur, the word "farce" means stuffing). She even paused to shamelessly sprinkle a flattering word on the humorless Frenchman's pate artistry.
After all these years with Julia, in any language -- but French especially -- it's still "bon appetit."
(The French Chef runs Tuesday through Friday at 1 p.m. on the Cooking Channel)