Julia Child’s “French Chef” on DVD: Episode 4, The Spinach Twins


When I browse through Barnes & Noble, occassionally I’ll eye a DVD and say: “My my, I didn’t know that DVD was in print, I’m going to add it to my Netflix cue.” Such was the case with Julia Child’s “The French Chef.” I had no idea this was out on DVD but I spied it at B&N, ran home (ok, maybe I walked) and added it to my list of must-see films right after “Problem Child” and “Problem Child 2.”

The nice thing about watching TV shows on DVD is that it’s easy to pace yourself: each episode is only 30 minutes so you invest only a small nugget of time as opposed to the four hours it takes to watch “Fanny & Alexander” which I couldn’t muster the energy to do. Watching Julia Child’s “The French Chef” is a revelation. I always knew why she was important–how she brought love of French cuisine to the masses–but I never really had a glimpse of what made her so effective. She is the ur-TV chef and its amazing how high she sets the bar: she’s funny, energetic, knowledgable, brave, cheeky, sloppy, and bursting with enthusiasm. Watching her flip potatoes in Episode 2 is a sight worth seeing: potatoes scatter everywhere and she laughs and says that you must be sure of yourself when you flip and she supposes she wasn’t confident enough. Then she takes the potatoes that made it into the skillet and turns them into a creamy buttery alternative potato dish.

Episodes 1 through 3 are great artifacts: you see this woman in a tiny hot kitchen creating a brand new form of entertainment. You can feel the excitement underneath it all; you can sense people’s reactions at home: who IS this woman on my TV? Why is she chopping heads off fish? What IS that accent?

Those first three episodes are in black and white and then suddenly episode four comes on in full color. It’s a fantastic Wizard of Oz moment: the show explodes with even more vibrancy. Julia journeys from her studio kitchen to Provence to make a spinach turnover with her collaborator Simone Beck (Simcha). There’s a great dynamic between them. Julia tells the audience it’s perfectly fine to use frozen spinach and frozen pastry dough. Simcha balks: “I’m old fashioned! We don’t do that here… [for dough] to be good: plenty of eggs and plenty of cream.” Julia laughs.

I took some notes while watching this episode because so many of Julia’s quips are priceless. She tells you to use a heavy bottomed pot while making your sauce or the bottom will scorch: “We don’t like soggy bottoms in pastry or scorched bottoms in sauces.”

She adds a dash of nutmeg and warns: “You don’t ever want someone to taste something and say, ‘Oh: nutmeg.'”

She pours a tub of heavy cream into the pot and remarks: “I’m using cream but I suppose you can use milk if you’re on one of those hideous diets.”

I love that word: “hideous.” Can you imagine Rachel Ray making that remark? Of course you can’t. Julia Child is the real thing–her status as a TV-icon and a food-icon is truly well deserved. These DVDs attest to that. She may have passed away, but she can live on in your DVD player. Add her to your Netflix cue today!

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