Julia Child would’ve been 100 years old today, and in celebration of her birthday, we’re giving away an entire library of her books to one very lucky winner. The prize includes the classic two-volume Mastering the Art of French Cooking, book and DVD versions of The Way to Cook, and four additional titles: Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, The French Chef Cookbook and My Life in France.
To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite Julia Child recipe by 5 pm (PT) today, Wednesday, August 15. We’ll pick a winner at random and email the recipient tomorrow, so be sure to check your email!
Read on to learn about the legendary chef’s lasting culinary influence from the words of our founder, Chuck Williams.
The legendary chef was a frequent visitor to Williams-Sonoma stores – and a good friend of Williams-Sonoma founder, Chuck Williams.
When you ask Chuck to tell you about some of his favorite culinary buddies, you’ll inevitably get a chuckle and the words, “Well, of course, there was Julia.”
Chuck remembers meeting Julia back in 1961 when she and her co-author Simone Beck came to San Francisco on their book tour for Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
“At that time,” he recalls, “there was a growing awareness of French cuisine and a renewed interest in honest home cooking using fresh ingredients.”
“In the post-war years, travel was cheap and people were beginning to visit France. That literally fed their interest in soufflés, omelets, French onion soup and all those other bistro-style dishes. The interest in French cooking was also fed by some marvelous cookbooks – and Julia’s was one of them.”
Chuck says that what really ignited America’s passion for authentic French food was Julia Child’s television show “The French Chef,” which debuted in 1963. “Julia was perhaps the single most influential presence in American cooking at the time,” he notes.
Julia had a knack for making even the most intricate French recipes seem exciting and accessible to the average American cook. Every time an episode of “The French Chef” aired on TV, customers would flock to Williams-Sonoma wanting to buy the equipment needed to prepare the dishes that were featured on the show.
“I didn’t even need to watch her show to know what she’d cooked on any given night,” Chuck recalls. “Because the next morning, countless customers would come into the shop asking for the exact size of sauté pan or soufflé dish that Julia had used.”
For example: The day after a popular soufflé episode, a well-dressed woman came in and asked for a soufflé dish, but was crestfallen when she learned the price. After all, she reasoned, why should she spend so much money on a special baking dish for a recipe that might not even turn out?
The ever-practical Chuck asked her if she owned a dog (she did). In that case, he said, she did not need to purchase a soufflé dish. Chuck advised that she could achieve perfectly good results baking the lofty French specialty in a dog dish – and suggested she try that instead. Needless to say, the customer bought the soufflé dish.
“When I told that story later, it would always get a laugh – but it’s a good explanation,” Chuck says. “A dog dish is exactly the shape you need: a straight-sided bowl.”
When it came to cooking, Chuck and Julia shared a common fondness for playfulness and down-to-earth practicality. Life in the kitchen was meant to be an adventure and a pleasure. And to get the most out of it, you needed the right tools. They didn’t have to be fancy – but they needed to get the job done well.
Years later, Julia spoke of the way her show and Chuck’s store functioned in perfect harmony. “After we started the television shows I was always using all kinds of equipment, and it was wonderful to know Chuck was there with the same things. He was single-minded in offering the best and at a reasonable price.”
When Chuck looks back at those days, he observes, “It really was a journey of discovery. You see, it was all new and different back then. Most cooks in this country didn’t even know what a soufflé dish was. Julia and I were offering Americans all sorts of things they’d never seen in the way of cooking and entertaining, so it was a learning experience for all of us. And you know what? I’m still learning!”
Today, Williams-Sonoma customers are still baking Julia’s soufflés – and celebrating the pleasures of cooking they learned from one of the world’s most beloved chefs.
In honor of Julia, here are five of our favorite French-inspired recipes:
Special thanks to writer and WS creative consultant Laura Martin Bacon for her contribution to this post.