The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.
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100 Of Julia Child’s Most Delicious Quotes [Celebrating Her 100th Birthday]
Posted Aug 15, 2012 by Jeff Houck
Updated Aug 15, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Today would have been Julia Child’s centennial birthday. The grand dame of American cooking died in August 2004, but her impact continues to be felt.
She has long since passed into legend, so it’s easy to forget that she was not only a phenomenal cook and teacher, she also had a flair for writing that was unusual for her time. Before New Journalism took hold of food writing, she and contemporaries such as James Beard and Craig Claiborne were making fine cooking at home a more approachable, less intimidating task.
Julia, I think, was most effective because she hid none of her flaws in the glare of television. She didn’t start her cooking career until her late 30s, a fact that made her even more endearing and real. But the glare of television and the enormity of her culinary celebrity obscured the fact that her writings - especially her landmark cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” - were as simple, direct and easy to digest as her beloved French food. Every word shows how diligent and meticulous she was in getting every flavor just right so it could be enjoyed in her reader’s home. She was expert yet not overwhelming. Her words had visual flourishes that bespoke someone who lived to find new flavors. Curiosity dripped from the pages. The happiness she enjoyed from tasting, from the task of cooking and then seeing the reaction of her guests were as elemental to her as salt and pepper. Even more rare, she was equally as brilliant with the spoken word as she was with the pen. For some reason, when Julia said things, they had a special resonance. Eight years after her passing, they only grow in stature.
Here now is a collection of her most savory words about life, love and cooking.
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1. I was 37 years old and still discovering who I was.
2. I was a pure romantic, and only operating with half my burners turned on.
3. No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.
4. Non-cooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.
5. For some reason people don’t consider cooking a serious business, but it’s like any discipline, and it’s a passionate and fascinating one.
6. Some people like to paint pictures, or do gardening, or build a boat in the basement. Other people get a tremendous pleasure out of the kitchen, because cooking is just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing, or wood carving, or music.
7. Freshness is essential. That makes all the difference.
8. I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food I’m cooking.
9. Fat gives things flavor.
10. If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.
11. You have to eat to cook. You can’t be a good cook and be a non-eater. I think eating is the secret to good cooking.
12. I find that if I just taste everything and eat small portions I maintain my weight. I watch my fat intake, but I eat hearty.
13. Personally, I don’t think pure vegetarianism is a healthy lifestyle. I’ve often wondered to myself: Does a vegetarian look forward to dinner, ever?
15. Certainly the most famous of the French beef stews is Boeuf Bourguignon. Although it may sound difficult, fancy and expensive just because it has a foreign name, it is only a basic brown meat stew, and all brown meat stews, whether of lamb, pork, veal, or beef, are almost identical in method.
16. We are all so used to buying chicken breasts, it’s hard to remember what a luxury they used to be when great-grandmother, and even grandmother, had to buy the whole bird just to get those two tender morsels.
17. You may think that boning a fowl is an impossible feat if you have never seen it done or thought of attempting it. Although the procedure may take 45 minutes the first time because of fright, it can be accomplished in not much more than 20 on your second or third try.
18. Some of the most glorious dishes of the French cuisine have been created for chicken.
19. You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by roast chicken ... We never seem to tire of chicken in our house, even though I have fed my husband upon it for weeks, even months at a time … I can go on eating chicken forever.
20. Any cook or housewife is well advised to learn as much as possible about grades and cuts of beef, as a vague beef-buyer is open to countless unnecessary disappointments and expenses.
21. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to eat fresh, home-cooked vegetables in France remembers them with pleasure. Returning voyagers speak of them with trembling nostalgia.
22. The French are interested in vegetables as food rather than as purely nutrient objects valuable for their vitamins and minerals.
23. A cardinal point in the French technique is: Do not overcook. An equally important admonition is: Do not attempt to keep a cooked green vegetable warm for more than a very few moments.
24. While an underdone chicken is not fit to eat, it is a shame to overcook chicken.
25. Cassoulet, that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome, though its ideal consumer is a 300-pound blocking back who has been splitting firewood nonstop for the last twelve hours on a subzero day in Manitoba.
26. Any cassoulet worthy of the name is not a light dish, and is probably best served as a noontime dinner.
27. Apples and duck are a fine combination, and sausages make it an even better one.
28. It is the Americans who have managed to crown minced beef as hamburger, and to send it round the world so that even the fussy French have taken to le boeuf hache, le hambourgaire.
29. It is hard to imagine a civilization without onions.
30. From that marvelous aroma of roasting that fills the air to the first plunge of the knife down through its brown skin, the juices pearling at the break in the second joint as the carving begins, and finally that first mouthful, roast chicken has always been one of life’s great pleasures.
31. So many steps are involved in the preparation of a really splendid Lobster Thermidor, no wonder it costs a fortune in any restaurant!
32. Just speak very loudly and quickly, and state your position with utter conviction, as the French do, and you’ll have a marvelous time!
34. Pate a choux is one of those quick, easy, and useful preparations like béchamel sauce with every cook should know how to make.
35. One of the unexplained mysteries of la cuisine is that the unlined copper bowl used by old French chefs produces splendidly smooth, velvety, and high-rising egg whites that remain stable for a surprisingly long time.
36. There are only four great arts: music, painting, sculpture, and ornamental pastry.
37. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile … then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile—and learn from her mistakes.
38. We are so bemused by our own petard that we are unable to look at things objectively.
39. The difficulty with all written recipes for omelets is that before you even start to make one you must read, remember, and visualize the directions from beginning to end, and practice the movements.
40. Wine and eggs have no great sympathy for each other.
41. Sauces are the splendor and glory of French cooking, yet there is nothing secret or mysterious about making them.
42. An excellent lunch or light supper need be no more than a good soup, a salad, cheese and fruit.
43. Fine wine is a living liquid … Its life comprises youth, maturity, old age, and death.
44. Food, like the people who eat it, can be stimulated by wine or spirits. And, as with people, it can also be spoiled.
45. You can save a tremendous amount of time, and also derive a modest pride, in learning how to use a knife professionally.
46. It’s all theory until you see for yourself whether or not something works.
47. Certainly one of the important requirements for learning how to cook is that you also learn how to eat. If you don’t know how an especially fine dish is supposed to taste, how can you produce it?
48. If you can read, you can cook.
49. I cannot forget one ladies’ lunch back in the 1950s. Our hostess proudly led us to our seats around a nicely appointed table where we each sat down to a pretty china plate upon which stood an upright, somewhat phallic-shaped molded aspic holding in suspension diced green grapes, diced marshmallows, and diced bananas.
50. I envy the professionals who hold an oyster in the palm of one hand, slip a knife effortlessly between the shells near the front, and open it just like that. For those of us lacking that touch of genius, it takes longer but it can be learned and, like the happy occupation of learning about wines through drinking them, you learn about oysters through opening and eating them.
51. Once you have mastered a technique, you barely have to look at a recipe again.
52. Crepes are a must in any cook’s bag of fundamentals, not only because they are so easy to make – they are always among the first dishes one is taught in any beginners cooking class – but also because, with a stack of those paper-thin French pancakes on hand in the freezer – you can look forward to any emergency situation that will draw them out.
53. As soon as you perceive that a quiche is only a custard plus a flavoring, you can make one out of anything you want.
54. “French cooking is not complicated,” I keep telling those who insist it is. At least it does not have to be. I think it is the foreign-sounding names of dishes that often strike terror in the hearts of innocent cooks.
55. What is continually pleasing about the French way of cooking is that you do something with the food. You don’t just boil it, butter it, and dish it out.
56. Learn how to cook! That’s the way to save money. You don’t save it buying hamburger helpers, and prepared foods; you save it by buying fresh foods in season or in large supply, when they are cheapest and usually best, and you prepare them from scratch at home. Why pay for someone else’s work, when if you know how to do it, you can save all that money for yourself?
57. Cooking well doesn’t mean cooking fancy.
58. But what a problem for cookery bookery writers. How are we to know the extent of our reader’s experience? I, for one, have solved that riddle by deciding to tell all.
59. Like most skills, it does take some practice to learn the omelet technique. If you are determined to master it, however, and are willing to make half a dozen, one right after the other with a devil-may-care attitude for those that may fall into the stove or onto the floor – you will succeed. The omelet will then be part of your life, too, forever more.
60. In department stores, so much kitchen equipment is bought indiscriminately by people who just come in for men’s underwear.
61. The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken.
62. With enough butter, anything is good.
63. One of the secrets of cooking is to learn to correct something if you can, and bear with it if you cannot.
64. Life itself is the proper binge.
65. It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate - you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.
66. A party without cake is really just a meeting.
67. Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal. In spite of food fads, fitness programs, and health concerns, we must never lose sight of a beautifully-conceived meal.
68. You’ve got to eat a little bit of everything. But in sensible amounts. You should have everything. You should know how real food is supposed to taste.
69. It seems to me I have had more than most people’s share of collapsing apple desserts, and every one of them has been my own fault because I chose the wrong kind of apple. And every collapse has been in public, too, right over the television air.
70. The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile.
71. Just like becoming an expert in wine – you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford – you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simply or luxurious. Then you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.
72. Everything in moderation… including moderation.
73. You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients.
74. Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should.
75. You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.
76. Always start out with a larger pot than what you think you need.
77. How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?
78. I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.
79. Wine is part of the food chain. In France and Italy, people don’t drink wine to get drunk, they drink wine as part of a meal, it makes it more pleasant ... there’s not anything evil about it, it’s part of the food.
80. Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
81. Remember, “No one’s more important than people!” In other words, friendship is the most important thing — not career or housework, or one’s fatigue — and it needs to be tended and nurtured.
82. I felt a lift of pure happiness every time I looked out the window. I had come to the conclusion that I must be French, only no one had ever informed me of this fact. I loved the people, the food, the lay of the land, the civilized atmosphere, and the generous pace of life.
83. I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one’s hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as “Oh, I don’t know how to cook…,” or “Poor little me…,” or “This may taste awful…,” it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not.
84. Every woman should have a blowtorch.
85. Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?
86. Why languish as a giantess when it is so much fun to be a myth?
87. The perfect Continental breakfast to start the perfect day is fresh croissants and café au lait.
88. The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.
89. Being tall is an advantage, especially in business. People will always remember you. And if you’re in a crowd, you’ll always have some clean air to breathe.
90. If you have ever been to France during the season, you will never forget the smell of fresh truffles.
91. Never name a dish before you serve it. Your souffle falls in the oven? You’re now serving Fallen Souffle.
92. If we could just have the kitchen and the bedroom, that would be all we need.
93. Upon reflection, I decided I had three main weaknesses: I was confused (evidenced by a lack of facts, an inability to coordinate my thoughts, and an inability to verbalize my ideas); I had a lack of confidence, which caused me to back down from forcefully stated opinions; and I was overly emotional at the expense of careful, “scientific” thought. I was 37 years old and still discovering who I was.
94. The only real stumbling block in the kitchen is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.
95. It’s fun to get together and have something good to eat at least once a day. That’s what human life is all about - enjoying things.
96. Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.
97. If you’re in a good profession, it’s hard to get bored, because you’re never finished - there will always be work you haven’t done.
98. The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know they’re right if you love to be with them all of the time.
99. I don’t think about whether people will remember me or not. I’ve been an okay person. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve taught people a thing or two. That’s what’s important.
100. Bon Appetit!
* * *
Her words were so lyrical, PBS put them to music in this amazing AutoTune remix:
Have a favorite phrase or saying? Share it in the comments, s’il vous plaît.