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Julia Child: The Accessible French Chef

by Hannah Soebbing

Julia Child was a fixture of American television from the premier of THE FRENCH CHEF in 1963 through a series of subsequent shows up into the 1990s. The simple chef-behind-a-stove set and "didactic" address of THE FRENCH CHEF helped codify the form of the instructional domestic cooking show, which continues to be a reference point for food-centric programming in contemporary television. As Josèe Johnston and Shyon Baumann note, Child's television presence and series of popular cookbooks played a pivotal role in making the once-rarified terrains of French cuisine accessible to a broad American audience (7-8). Indeed, Child herself would speak explicitly about her intent to "break down the snob appeal" (qtd. in Johnston and Baumann 7). Essential to her own televisual appeal was the "candidness" of her persona. Filmed live, THE FRENCH CHEF's welcoming tone was often punctuated by moments of Child's fleeting distraction and voiced asides to herself and the audience about, for instance, the things you can get away with in the kitchen when no one is looking. (Skip to about 14:40 in the source video for such an aside: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0P0l8a4Sg8)

Chid has been a complicated figure for gender studies. Her presence on the screen can be said to have worked in some dimensions to reinforce ideational connections between notions of femininity and domesticity. At the same time, she has been described as a "subversive" feminist figure. Child did not consider herself a housewife, and her affirmations of the "sensual and utterly physical gratifications of cooking delicious food" challenged the traditional role of the "abstinent, genteel wife, who never reported to be hungry" (Hamblen 9, 7).*


*Works Cited appears on Lecture hub: http://www.criticalcommons.org/Members/hsoebb/lectures/appetitive-television-a-lecture-by-hannah-soebbing

The French Chef

THE FRENCH CHEF starring Julia Child helped popularize and codify the form of the instructional cooking show. Child's personable styles of address meanwhile made bourgeois cuisine more accessible to a broad American viewership.

from The French Chef: "The Potato Show" (S01E22) (1963 )
Creator: WBGH, Julia Child
Distributor: YouTube user TheVladbocean, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0P0l8a4Sg8
Posted by Hannah Soebbing
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