Reaching a compromise with Julia Child

July 31, 2009 at 3:45 pm Leave a comment

Last night, I was watching the latest episode of “The Next Food Network Star” and groaning at the obvious product placement moment when the remaining finalists were tasked with watching “Julie & Julia” and concocting an inspired three-course meal. The “inspirations” the finalists came up with were pretty cliche and failed, at least for me, to hit any solid inspirational note. Essentially, the finalists said that after watching the movie they realized they are confident to cook whatever they want in their own culinary style, and then proceeded to do what they’ve done for the judges in each previous episode.

This morning, I read an excellent piece in the latest New York Times Magazine about Julia Child and what her show really meant to American culture, American cooking and how this related to the modern-day woman.

The writer hits upon some key concepts that sadly are true for many: Cooking consists of taking pre-prepared items and heating them up, an interest in cooking really means an interest in watching other people eat, and a failure to recognize the simple joy that can come from fully preparing a meal from scratch.

I have to admit that I’m guilty of these things from time to time. In a perfect world, I’d love to cook every meal from scratch, but I cannot ignore the fact that doing so on a regular basis puts a serious dent in my budget. Going to the freshfarm market each Sunday in Dupont Circle can add up to $25 or more for produce, whereas heating up a can of Trader Joe’s soup for dinner costs, well, about $1.75. I can buy all the ingredients to make a homemade curry, chicken and vegetable concoction for dinner for $30-$40, but buying Trader Joe’s curry sauce and frozen vegetables costs about $10-$15.

I’m also guilty of watching many of the gimmicky programs on “The Food Network.” (Although I can confidently state that I abhor watching Guy Fieri shovel greasy food into his mouth and watching Sandra Lee make a meal out of Cheeze Whiz and grocery store angel food cake.)

For many of us, taking that journey back to Julia Child and mastering the kitchen by preparing bearnaises and bourgignons for nightly dinners just isn’t feasible. I certainly hope this doesn’t mean the “dream” is lost. Perhaps beef bourgignon and bearnaise sauce is a bit ambitious. But surely Julia Child wouldn’t scoff at, say, stir-fried chicken breasts with couscous, or homemade tomato sauce with spaghetti, right?

The Times Magazine article has inspired me to at least try to prepare more things from scratch. After all, it’s not that I don’t enjoy cooking, it’s just that, well, I also enjoy saving money.

Maybe my version of “Julie & Julia” involves a compromise between Julia Child’s dream of a modern-day female French chef and my life as a not-yet-rich nonprofit worker turned graduate student.

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Entry filed under: Quirk.

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