Why you'll never cook from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

What to eat. What not to eat.
Aug. 28 2009 5:28 PM

Don't Buy Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking

You will never cook from it.

(Continued from Page 1)

Americans have also been taught not to believe in butter, especially not in the quantities Julia lavished on food in true French tradition. Anyone accustomed to glugging olive oil into every sauté pan will have some adjusting to do with dairy: Butter burns; cream can be cloying. Snobs like me may also be amazed that more than a few recipes suggest using frozen or canned vegetables and canned salmon, a nod to the era in which the book was written and edited, when farmers markets were not even gleams in the most forward-thinking cook's eyes, before farmed salmon became the new Chicken of the Sea. Seasonality, another new watchword for smart cooking, is clearly a nonissue, or no one would be making beef stew in August in homage to the masterpiece.

Many cooks will probably react like the woman quoted in a New York Times article who substituted a can of cream of mushroom and a can of French onion soup rather than taking the extra steps to braise both vegetables. And the backlash against Mastering the Art is already beginning: The New York Times also ran an article on a newly translated French equivalent of Joy of Cooking that includes a boeuf bourguignon recipe involving exactly five steps (and a lot less nuance and depth).

Advertisement

Julia would be spinning 6 feet under if she knew her book had spawned this kind of cooking. Luckily, her subsequent, more relaxed cookbooks appear to be selling again, too. I was scared off, but friends swear by the 1975 From Julia Child's Kitchen because the recipes are not all French and allow for the convenience of that new-fangled food processor. In the introduction, Julia writes that she intended for it to be more "personal and informal" than her masterwork, which was conceived of more as a textbook and was written with collaborators, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.

My cynical side suspects cookbook buyers looking for that old French magic would be much happier with other authors. Patricia Wells and Anne Willan have done great jobs translating classic French cuisine, using one-page or shorter recipes, while some of the better modern-French "instructors" include Jacques Pépin and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and even Jeremiah Tower. Also, never underestimate the late Pierre Franey, the "60-Minute Gourmet." Hardcover editions of his books command a premium online for good reason: The recipes are foolproof and easy but yield sensational results. (You just can't make beef stew in an hour.)

None of this is meant to take away from Julia Child's phenomenal achievement. Her book, and the television series that made the recipes look so doable, really did change how America cooked at a time when housewives (and even restaurant chefs) desperately needed encouragement to move beyond casseroles and TV dinners. But given how arduously she protected her integrity, never endorsing products, it's a little disconcerting to see her masterwork being shilled like a Shrek tie-in at Burger King, with promos wrapped around every copy sold.

Once the mania subsides, Julia Child will still be huge. It will be the movie that looks small.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.