“No one comes to D.C. just to see Julia Child’s kitchen…” Famous last words, dad! Especially given that approximately 4.6M people flock to the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History every year to pay homage to one of America’s most famous chefs. Including yourself! Best enjoy it, cause I have a strong sentiment that you’re gonna be here a while!
If you preserve it, they will come – I can’t prove it, but I feel quite certain this was the idea when the Smithsonian approached Julia Child about donating her now iconic kitchen along with a kitchen battery featuring roughly 1,200 implements to the Smithsonian. Afterall, “a pot saver is a self-hampering cook!”
The Smithsonian wanted Julia’s kitchen in its entirety. Replica’s need not apply! We want to display your actual kitchen. It’s familiar to the American public. It reflects the functionality of a country kitchen with pots, pans and everything a cook needs within easy reach and visible to the eye. Anyone can walk into your kitchen and start baking! Let’s leverage that familiarity by inviting the nation to your kitchen. Ooh ahh!
It was, after all, the soul of Julia’s house. The place where she tested recipes, received guests, entertained company, relaxed, laughed, shot various television shows, hoped and dreamed. Designed by her husband Paul and organized by Julia, the Cambridge, Massachusetts kitchen measuring 20 feet by 14 feet features French blue cabinets, maple countertops, and a spacious layout that are a delightful invitation to “turn something on and cook!” But how do we do that, Julia? Especially since most of us aren’t Julia Child!
“No one is born a great cook!” Not even Julia Child. She learned from the best. She learned from the French! After graduating from Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu in 1951, Julia embarked on a 7-year of collaboration with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck to write a definitive survey of the best French recipes and techniques. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was an instant hit beginning with its first printing in August 1961 (Not gonna lie! I own an August 1961 copy of this classic cookbook. One of my most treasured things.) With 524 recipes printed on 720 pages organized in 10 chapters, the book has seen only 2 revisions (once in 1983 to bring the content up-to-date with the latest kitchen technology and again in 2003 when a short history of the book was added to the introduction). A second volume would follow in 1970 focusing on baking and bread making.
Believe it or not, I was first “introduced” to Julia Child via the second volume of MTAFC. Croissants. Long story. An ounce of determination often leads to the cliffs of insanity (Ha! Shout out to The Princess Bride! So quotable.) After a mountain of croissants recipes, I wound up right back where I started. Julia’s Croissants. I still remember the first time I made Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon. My first omelette Julia. That’s the thing about her recipes. They are memorable. Classic. In visiting her kitchen, I had the same expectations – that it would be classically memorable. I am surprised to say that it was so much more. It was homey, inviting, comforting. All around me I could hear guests recalling little tads and tidbits they learned over the years, “the countertops were raised 2 inches to accommodate her height.” “See the “do not move” sign. That’s an ice maker that was essential for her tv show.” The space was packed with people, all tiptoeing about in silent reverence. Museums are often loud spaces. This was the quietest exhibit I’ve visited in a while. One guest summed it up nicely, “Wow, I didn’t expect it to feel so much like my own kitchen.”
Her cookbooks provide the recipes, her television shows the visual instruction. Now all that’s left to do is cook. “What a happy task she has set before us. The pleasures of the table are infinite. Toujours bon appétit…and above all, have a good time.”
Because this is part memoir, part travelogue, my intent is to post all of my pictures of Julia’s kitchen. Like Aerosmith croons, I don’t want to miss a thing. I photographed it all – every angle, every nook, every possible corner from the 1956 commercial grade, six burner Model 182 Garland gas stove purchased by the Child’s in 1956 for $429 to the etched acrylic window used by the Smithsonian to document the missing copper cookware on display at COPIA in Napa, California (the pans were reunited with Julia’s kitchen in August 2009. Of course, I photographed that as well).
For those who are curious, my dad patiently waited on me for about an hour. I was on cloud 9…and for a minute, even he was a little touched…weren’t you dad?!?
Bibliography – This article required some research from the following sources:
(1) Child, Julia with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. Mastering the Art of French Cooking. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961. Print.
(2) “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Wikipedia.
(5) Domenica Marchetti (August 13, 2009). “In Julia Child’s Kitchen, A Lifetime of Stories.” The Washington Post. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
(6) “Julia Child’s Kitchen.” Wikipedia.