Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Original 30-Minute Meals

Am I the last person on earth that didn't know that "The French Chef" was out on DVD? I am delving into the first set of DVD's; disc one, which I watched last night was a trip. You are literally watching Julia single-handedly (with one camera and a push-button controlled electric range top that must have made her cringe) create modern food television as we know it. The first episode is about potatoes, and has the infamous moment where her attempt to flip a dish gets more of it on the rangetop than in the pan. Unflappable, she merrily scoops it back into the pan, telling us in her plummy tones "no one will ever know!"

The funny thing is that these are both time-capsules and yet not. Some of the episodes are so old they seem like kinescopes- complete with almost-round frame. Hardly a fresh herb is in sight; Julia suggest growing ones own herbs with the timidity that one would usually reserve for suggesting one perform one's own appendectomy. The cooking equipment is shockingly rudimentary and the ingredient lists tiny and rather narrow in this age of Williams Sonoma and heirloom tomatoes being available everywhere and everyone knowing about the joys of EVOO and "Essence". There is the aforementioned push-button range, and Julia introduces us to a wire whisk and knife-sharpening and onion-slicing and boullabaisse with whole cooked fish and god help us eel. Which in 1962 must have seemed as foreign and suspect and strange as if this Tuesday Rachael Ray chirped out a 30-minute meal using peacock brains served with snake-venom foam and edible flowers. But it's not dated in it's foundation in good French cooking and basic skills being taught. After the 28 minutes of watching Julia glow her way (she mops her brow a few times over that electric range's visible heat signature, which makes an Apollo Rocket lift-off look like a sno-cone) through the explanation of those of those potato dishes and how and why you choose the different potatoes for the different ones I felt like I had learned something. Certainly if Julia can make something that looks that magnificent out of spuds, cream, pepper, cheese and diced ham on a range that seems to only have two settings (Incinerate and Off) using a cheese grater and a fork, the rest of us should be able to give it a whirl.

A feeling I never get from Bobby Flay and his $25000 patio grill overlooking lower Manhattan..


Perfumeshrine said...

There's something to be said about caressing your audience's insecurities obviously.
I am in Europe and have never watched any episodes of this Julia Child* (her last name surely is cruelly ironic given her countenance and general physionomy; she has the looks of someone's "auntie").
However it must be some sort of fun seeing just how more spartan and pared down cooking was in the pre-fusion era.

*Found you through Gaia's blog :-)

tmp00 said...

What's odd is that everyone in America then wanted to be European and sophisticated. Now they want to be "down home". Then we had John Kennedy and the French Chef. Now we have GWB and "Semi-Homemade Meals"

Looove Gaia's blog..

Always In Style said...

Excellent post - I must track this down on Netflix!

tmp00 said...

It's really interesting!