PBS // 1962 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // April 24th, 2013
Save the liver.
Julia Child wasn't the first television chef -- she was, however, the first chef to make it look easy -- but Ms. Child's legacy was far more than that. The Thomas household is big on the Food Channel, and we've seen some magnificent dishes prepared, but it's rare that we think, "Yeah, I could do that." Sometimes we're intimidated by the arcane ingredients, sometimes it's by the vast array of cookware, sometimes so advanced that you suspect that the kitchen could double as a NASA communications center. Perhaps it's just that the chef does things so smoothly, so effortlessly, his or her patter rolling off the tongue as they bring all their ingredients together. Those guys get scary, especially when they whip out the long knives.
But not Julia Child. From a kitchen that looks like an everyday household kitchen, Child walks us through a variety of dishes. Julia Child's Dinner Party Favorites has six early episodes from her groundbreaking PBS show, The French Chef; the episodes conveniently break down by course:
Soups and Sides
* Soupe au Pistou
* Asparagus from Tip to Butt
* Cassoulet (a hearty bean casserole)
* Roast Duck a l'Orange
* Cake for Company
* Fruit Tarts
Julia Child makes it look easy and not at all intimidating -- with the possible exception of trussing the duck (your mileage may vary). A big reason for this is that her delivery isn't smooth; she stumbles around at times looking for the right word, things don't always work quite right, but she takes it all in stride, and that's part of her charm -- she's less interested in demonstrating her own prowess as she is demonstrating how easy a given recipe can be. She has some engaging business along the way -- when she has to whip some egg whites, for instance, she whips one set by hand while another set is whipped by a mixer -- she initially presents it as a silly sort of race, but along the way, she points out some slight differences between the two methods.
Pacing is somewhat uneven; while demonstrating how to make soupe au pistou, there's a stretch where she has to wait about 6 minutes while the soup cooks down. To make sure no time is wasted, Child takes the opportunity to demonstrate how to make a second soup, finishing up right as it's time to get back to the first one. Quite efficient. In contrast, the episode on asparagus wastes a lot of time; to an extent, I'm spoiled from watched too much Alton Brown, but 30 minutes is a little long just to demonstrate how to boil asparagus and make hollandaise. Occasionally things do get a little, um, how shall I put this...odd. The final shot in this episode is, shall we say, a tad suggestive. Let's just say that Child is shot in silhouette eating a whole asparagus and leave it at that.
Video quality is rather poor, but we are talking about PBS in 1962, so what do you expect? No amount of cleanup is going to change the fact that this is black-and-white, which is obviously an issue, particularly for a cooking show.
By no means as slick as today's cooking shows, these early offerings from Julia Child are nevertheless charming and engaging. Bon appetit!
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 1962
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* The Julia Child Foundation