Dishing it Out by Andrea Macko
Every time I see a commercial for the television show Hell’s Kitchen, I cringe. I’ve never watched a full episode; I can’t stomach the screaming, angry antics of host/chef extraordinaire Gordon Ramsay, even in a 30-second clip. Even within the overwrought confines of reality TV, I can’t help but wonder if anyone, after watching the show, would want to learn to cook.
I recently finished reading Dearie, Bob Spitz’s thorough biography of renowned cook Julia Child — it only seemed apropos for me to pick it up, considering this job. As a child, I remember being mildly frightened by the large woman with the singsong voice on afternoon television while I searched for cartoons. Since I’ve started taking cooking seriously, it’s seemed that Child’s name had fallen by the wayside, in favour of trendy TV chefs du jour who are only carrying on Child’s trailblazing mantle.
Julia Child is one of reality television’s original stars; when her show, The French Chef, debuted in 1963, viewers were fascinated by the recipes as much as they were the then-middle-aged woman’s warm personality and sense of humour. She would continue to push her passion for fine food to the masses practically until her death in 2004.
Dearie repeatedly reinforces that Child found her purpose in life only when she moved to the culinary paradise of France for her husband’s work after the Second World War; the fabulous flavours and rigorous techniques of French cooking were a revelation to Child’s palette and mind. After months of sampling Paris’ restaurant scene, Child studied at the famed Cordon Bleu cooking school, befriending professional chefs and amateur cooks along the way.
It was her interaction with a group of amateur chefs that led to her fame. Two friends were working on a cookbook of French classics, interpreted for an American audience. Child came on board to lend an American voice to the tome, but ended up co-authoring the book. Child’s then-revolutionary approach wasn’t just to offer recipes, but to also include tips on what ingredients should look like while being cooked, tricks to pick the best cuts of meat or the freshest vegetables, and practical substitutions and variations.
In Dearie, Spitz says that Child was awed by American cuisine — or lack thereof — when she returned stateside prior to the book’s release. After accepting the limited European market model of grocery shopping, post-war American grocery stores offered a plethora of choice. And yet, convenience was the word of the day for housewives: if it wasn’t frozen meals on the table, it was something concocted — not cooked, in Julia’s opinion — from pre-fab food such as canned soup, Spam… and food colouring for flair.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking caused a sensation when it was released in 1961, and her subsequent books and television shows were lauded for their practical and lighthearted approach to fancy food. She offered housewives of the day a way to feel like “you’re somebody special, somebody talented,” by taking cooking beyond daily drudgery into the sublime.
What Child was fighting for — and against — remain relevant. Replace those cream-of-something-soup casseroles with fast food or ready-made meals and you see a similar struggle. How many nights have we resigned ourselves to eating something less than delicious, less than nutritious, in favour of something quick and ultimately unpleasing? How often have we attempted a delicious dish, only to have it flounder due to lack of skill? Cooking is an art — but it’s rooted in teachable techniques. Cooking need not exist within a pressure cooker; with encouragement and practice, it becomes a stress reliever of sorts, and yes, even kind of fun (especially with a glass of wine, Julia would add).
Julia’s recipes are heavily copyrighted, yet easy to find online or in one of her many books. But with Easter fast approaching, I believe this recipe might be more appropriate… and, just as Julia demystified cooking, this demystifies a traditional treat!
Chocolate Cream Egg Pops
(From Style at Home, April 2013)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 cups icing sugar
Yellow food colouring
1-12 oz. bag milk chocolate chips
In a medium bowl, mix corn syrup, butter and vanilla until creamy. Sift in icing sugar and beat with fork until combined. Transfer a quarter of mixture to a small bowl for yolk. Add food colouring to yolk to desired colour; cover and refrigerate both bowls.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Shape yolk mixture into 12 balls, place on sheet and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
Then, take a scoop of white mixture and flatten, wrapping around each yolk ball until completely covered. Insert lollipop sticks and return to refrigerator.
Melt chocolate in a double boiler; dip eggs into chocolate, ensuring all is covered. Let harden on parchment paper before enjoying.