Who Will Be Tomorrow’s Julia Child?

August 17th, 2009

time_julia_childThe day Julia Child flipped her potato pancake onto the stove on her live show The French Chef was a key moment in culinary history. It reminded viewers that mistakes happen; it took some of the fear out of cooking. In this summer’s box office hit Julie and Julia, Meryl Streep plays Child and muses after the faux-pas, “I didn’t have the courage to do it the way I should have.’ Meatless Monday, on surveying the current crop of cooking shows, wonders whether they have Julia’s courage – not just to teach us how to cook, but in a new era of food awareness, how to cook mindfully and healthfully.

Best-selling food author Michael Pollan, a big supporter of Meatless Monday, points out that Americans now spend an average of 27 minutes cooking per day, less than half that of Julia Child’s era. People today are cooking less but – witness the rise of The Food Network – are actually watching cooking shows more! Here’s a key qualifier, though: these “cooking shows’ are not much more than “food entertainment.’ They value effect over end product, efficiency over quality, time-saving tips over detailed instruction.

Child’s The French Chef, which ran from 1963-1973, aired unedited and showcased not just Julia’s recipes and techniques – the flips and the flops – but her famous passion for food and chiefly joie de vivre. Today’s hyper-slick cooking shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef America, by comparision, are more about competition than preparing real food in an actual kitchen. And the Rachel Rays and Emeril Lagasses, while they proffer recipes and tips, seem more interested in furthering their brand (and their products).

The good news is, there has been a slowly building backlash. Just as celebrity chefs on television have become more removed from their audiences, viewers are seeking out new outlets and talent for guidance and inspiration. And the short attention spans that spawned (or were spawned by) the mega-hit cooking shows have resulted in a demand for immediate interactivity. Enter the Internet age – where both budding and accomplished cooks are turning to websites, blogs and YouTube for practical advice and demonstrations, and “less-packaged’ food advisers. They are searching for their own Julia, in an instant.

Meatless Monday’s very own video blogger Kinzie, like the character Julie Powell in Julie and Julia, transformed her passion for cooking into something that can help others. Both women joined the food blogosphere, creating articles, recipes and video they send out over the Internet for anyone to use, and receiving feedback, praise and popularity in return – not the mention of satisfaction of sharing something they love.

“Cooking can be a little overwhelming,’ says Kinzie. “Taking people out of their comfort zone, and asking them to prepare a meatless meal can seem daunting. I want to help change that in my small way.’

Everyone here at Meatless Monday feels the same. By preparing the food you eat, when it’s your force behind the knife, or your hands in the dough, you develop a deeper understanding of what you’re eating. You tend to think more about the health consequences – good and bad – of what you’re eating.

So this Monday, have the courage to step away from the TV, explore cooking videos online and give a new meatless recipe a try. Let the plethora of cooking resources excite you to embark on a new cooking adventure. In the time-honored words of Julia Child: “Do not be afraid!’

Here are a few must-see blogs that demonstrate the range of bounty:

Depression Cooking with Clara is full of 93 year-old Clara Cannucciari’s recipes and childhood memories from the Great Depression.

Crash Test Kitchen captures two Aussie’s in a kitchen making food and making mistakes.

And don’t forget to check out our own Kinzie!