Chef’s Kiss: Feast your eyes on the new Julia Child documentary

Julia Child was an intimidating celebrity to witness as a pre-teen.

When I stayed home sick from school, my feverish face sampled a mixture of syndicated programming (Gilligan, Flintstones, Love American Style) and PBS shows, including my favorite, The Electric Company, along with Sesame Street, Mister Rogers and the incomparable Julia Child with her very enthusiastic cooking programs. The French Chef was already in reruns by the time I started seeing it (its original run was from 1963-73) but continued to air in repeats until 1989.

Whenever Julia came on, I’d switch it right off, of course. I’d handle a few minutes of it but would bail pretty fast. I was, like, 8, and didn’t want to know about cooking. Also, being a stupid little kid, I thought Julia was yelling at everybody because she was angry, unaware that she was just super freaking psyched to be showing you how to cook a chicken. 

With the passage of time, further study of Julia has taught me to love her on so many levels. She was a pioneer, a person who wasn’t afraid to make a mistake and, yes dammit, she could cook up a storm. That boisterous voice that used to spin me out as a child transformed in my head over the years into the voice of one of the most cheerful, enthusiastic and funny people to ever host a program on TV.

Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West (the makers of RBG) have put together a loving film that covers her entire life, from childhood, to the first time she showed up on PBS and requested a hot plate for her interview, until her passing at the age of 91. She stayed on TV well into her later years, cooking like crazy and eating with a passion unmatched. 

During WWII, she served in the Office of Strategic Services after not being allowed to serve in the Army or Navy because she was too tall. It was during her post-war time in France that she developed a love for French food, eventually writing the bestselling Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The film covers the almost accidental start to Julia’s TV career, where she showed up to promote that book on PBS in 1962, and figured she’d cook an omelet on live TV to spruce the segment up. Audiences responded enthusiastically to the idea of watching somebody prepare a meal on that little box in their living room. The rest is history. 

The directors interview those who were close to her and incorporate archival footage of Child so that her own voice contributes to the telling of her story. Access to some of Child’s journals add so much to the proceedings, including a funny series of entries where Child comments on her future husband. He went from not being all that attractive in her first observations to being the best thing that ever happened to her (besides, well, the food). Their romance provides a nice flavor to the overall story.

In 1978, probably dressed in footie pajamas, I caught the SNL where Dan Aykroyd played Child cutting her hand and bleeding torrents of blood all over the set. (“Save the liver!”) The film reminds that Child actually had really cut her thumb the month before that skit aired, making it through the whole show live then heading to the hospital for five stitches. Battles with on-air injuries, unruly omelets, PBS and cancer couldn’t take her down. She always resurfaced somewhere with a new show or made amends and went home to PBS for some warmly received specials. 

Apart from making you fall in love with Julia Child all over again, Julia will make you hungry. The filmmakers do a fine job of catching food in all of its glory beyond the actual footage of Julia cooking. I don’t think I’ve ever had Beef Bourguignon before, but I for damned sure want it now. I wonder if Julia would be pissed if I tried to make it in a Crock Pot?  

The film will be the headliner for closing night at the Loft Film Fest Thursday, Nov. 18.

By Film...

By Theater...