Julia Child’s pop culture resurgence is feeding a new generation of pandemic-era home cooks

Apr 20, 2022, 4:54 PM | Updated: Apr 21, 2022, 10:09 am
Sarah Lancashire plays Julia Child in the new HBO MAX show, Julia. (Seacia Pavao/HBO Max)...
Sarah Lancashire plays Julia Child in the new HBO MAX show, Julia. (Seacia Pavao/HBO Max)
(Seacia Pavao/HBO Max)

A couple of months ago, I started getting press releases for several new books and TV shows, all revolving around the same famous American chef: Julia Child.

In late November I watched a new documentary called Julia. Last month The Food Network launched a cooking competition show called The Julia Child Challenge, featuring eight home cooks and Child’s recipes. There’s a new non-fiction book called Warming Up Julia Child by Helen Horowitz, and a few weeks ago HBO Max released a show called Julia, a dramatization of Julia Child’s life in the 1960s starring Sarah Lancashire, David Hyde Pierce, and Isabella Rossellini.

“[The show focuses on the time] when she invented food television, where the roles in her marriage were flipped. It felt like a really exciting second act story,” said executive producer and creator Daniel Goldfarb, who also wrote and produced The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Julia Child is a celebrated American icon, but I wondered why so many projects are happening all at once.

“We just came out of a couple of years where a lot of people were spending a lot of time at home,” said Goldfarb. “The idea of cooking to take you to new places and connect with people and the joy of eating good food. I think, also, we’re in a moment in time where Julia’s optimism and Julia’s joie de vivre and Julia’s unsinkableness is really inspiring.”

Horowitz’s book centers on Child, but highlights the six most influential people in her career, including her adoring husband, Paul Child.

“The one thing that I came away with is Paul’s incredible helpfulness,” Horowitz said. “He encouraged her at every step of the way. He talks about what his role is on [Julia’s TV show] The French Chef and his role is completely behind the scenes. He helps shop for the show, he hauls the materials, he cleans up after the show, does all the washing. And he never seemed jealous at all. He seemed grateful for the opportunity.”

She says the timing of her book was purely a coincidence. As for the serendipity of so many projects being released at the same time,

“It might have to do with the pandemic,” Horowitz. “All of us were trapped in our homes, but you had a lot of time. I think that’s part of it. People dusted off their books and said, ‘I want to try that.'”

The book she’s referring to is Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Child’s first cookbook, released in 1961 when she was 49 years old. The book launched her career and is still one of the best-selling cookbooks of all time. It’s what food stylist Christine Tobin referenced when she cooked all the food you see on HBO’s Julia. Food was such a huge part of the production that they built her a fully operational kitchen adjacent to the set, so she could pull steaming dishes from the oven and immediately run them out to the set for filming.

“In episode three, the burgers studded with butter are just luscious,” said Tobin, who is based in Boston just like Child was. “We see Julia’s roast chicken and croutons, which is one of my favorites.”

Tobin says she doesn’t use old Hollywood styling tricks; all of the food on set was delicious, high quality, and happily consumed by the cast and crew between takes.

“Not one thing is fake,” said Tobin. “Everyone asks me that. Everything was her recipes and fresh, and I was so lucky to have markets that I was able to visit that were actually some of Julia’s favorite markets. It was really wonderful.”

Today’s media landscape is flooded with cooking shows and competitions, food podcasts (ahem!), and cooking influencers on Instagram. But hopefully, all of this new Julia Child programming will keep America’s original, and beloved, celebrity chef relevant to younger generations.

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Julia Child’s pop culture resurgence is feeding a new generation of pandemic-era home cooks