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Julia Child ages, but
Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home will air weekly on WUSF-Ch. 16 at 4:30 p.m. Sundays beginning this weekend and at 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays starting Oct. 6; it will run on WEDU-Ch. 3 at 12:30 p.m. Saturdays beginning Oct. 2.
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 23, 1999
We who have watched Julia Child chortle as she cooked for four decades knew she would wear purple when she grew old.
Yet who could imagine she would wear it so well in her 80s as she does when she returns to the screen this weekend with another TV cooking legend, Jacques Pepin?
From a peek at the first episode and outtakes of the new Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home filmed at her home in Cambridge, Mass., Child had as much color in her spirit as in her purple silk blouse. She may have aged, but she hasn't lost her fizz.
Her hair has thinned, and her posture is stooped, but you know she's back as soon as you hear her oooooh at a well-marbled steak: "That is sooooo beautiful."
When she tosses crimini and shiitake mushrooms into butter and oil and says, "They'll be happy together," the trill is not gone.
While Pepin's famous step-by-step hands do much of the work, Child's bony fingers are still eager to flatten prime beef for steak Diane, crack a huge ostrich egg and demonstrate how to cut an onion just right for pan-roasting.
Child, who started out as "The French Chef" in 1963, and Pepin, a genuine French chef who arrived in the United States in 1959, share the kitchen like two generations of a loving family. The passionate home cook and the practiced restaurant chef enjoy trading recipes, debating technique and gently bickering.
They obviously share a love of food, especially classics such as French Chateaubriand and American pot roast. The camera loves this food, too, with its glistening brown crusts and bubbling pots you can almost smell.
And these pioneers of American cooking shows still use television well, although they can ham it up clinking wine glasses and clowning as if they are in a Fawlty Towers skit. Child dons a firefighter's helmet and stands by with a fire extinguisher when Pepin flambees; Pepin wears a toga for Julia's Caesar salad.
More practically, they and the camera focus much of the time on how to buy good ingredients and on how to clean and trim them before they hit the stove.
While cable channels boil over with fusion cooking and flashier chefs, Child and Pepin are comforting guides to basics and older flavors that have returned to popularity.
For this show, they improvise on old favorites that have been carefully reconstructed for the companion book of the same name (Knopf; $40). In the 22 TV segments and the book installments, the dishes include cheese souffle, stuffed artichokes, scalloped potatoes and blanquette de veau, from traditional haute cuisine to the cooking the French call a la bonne femme.
As America's gourmet grandmother, Child dearly loves the old ways and laments the scarcity of aged prime beef and too much fuss over fat and salt. At one point in the filming, she chides Pepin: "We don't care about nutrition; we care about flavor." Yet she also confides that she doesn't stuff herself on rich foods: "In restaurants I'm a shameless doggie-bag taker."
When she and Pepin prepare dueling hamburgers, however, his is unseasoned and cooked on the grill, while hers is mixed with salt, pepper and shallots, cooked in a cast-iron skillet sprinkled with more salt and served on a buttered bun with mayonnaise and everything else, including not one but two strips of bacon. Both burgers are more than 3 inches tall and have to be cut in half.
As they munch into their burgers, they close as they always have: "Happy cooking" from him, "Bon appetit!" from her.
"Bam!" should live so long.
For the pan sauce:
For the garnish:
Note: An acceptable substitute for a small amount of stock can be made from a can of beef bouillon, the low-sodium variety. Simmer it for half an hour or so with a handful of diced carrots, onion, celery, perhaps a tomato and a little dry wine or vermouth. Strain, and season if necessary.
Yield: Two steaks, each about 6 to 7 ounces, serving two generously or three.
Source: Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, Alfred A. Knopf, $40.