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!

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

  1. John in Austin

    Thanks for the tip and the review. It’s now in my queue.

    Somehow I suspect it will be more interesting than “Iron Chef America”, which I have also queued. However, I have an open mind…

  2. DAMN! You’re the one who got it!!

    (Kidding, kidding. Seriously, though, I just added these. Can’t wait to get ’em)

  3. kate of the great salt lake

    “she’s funny, energetic, knowledgable, brave, cheeky, sloppy, and bursting with enthusiasm” What a fabulous description – these talents I am sure came from the fact she went to Smith College where we were all encouraged to be energetic AND sloppy. Ahh Julia! You rock!

    -a fellow smithie

  4. I about fell over when I read, She adds a dash of nutmeg and warns: “You don’t ever want someone to taste something and say, ‘Oh: nutmeg.'”

    That has to be one of the funniest sentences of all time. Thank you for giving me a much needed belly laugh.

  5. As someone who’s only ever seen much more recent Julia Child TV appearances, I’m glad you’ve reminded me exactly what I need to push right to the top of my Netflix queue. Her life history is pretty amazing as well, with spy stories and everything (although obviously none of this will be on the French Chef DVDs).

  6. Just added her to my queue, too. (Wow, how many copies does Netflix have?)

    Now, do the right thing and give Fanny and Alexander another go. Swedish semi-magical realism, baby!

  7. Rachael Ray is always adding nutmeg to dishes and saying (in that maniac way that she constantly repeats herself) “The nutmeg will add something to the dish that will make them say ‘mmmmm what is that?'”

    Which I take to mean that they (meaning those eating food prepared by the evil woman) would be tasting the nutmeg in her recipe which, according to Ms. Julia above, you should never be able to really taste. So… yay! Thanks for giving me another reason to hate Rachael Ray.

    And I too will be adding these dvds to my netflix queue. Thanks for the recommendation!

  8. Julia is the reason I love to cook. Seriously – my early memories of tv watching were sitting there in my PJs watching the French Chef, which was on RIGHT BEFORE SESAME STREET.

    Julia and Big Bird – two of the major influences in my life.

  9. thanks for the tip! i didn’t know those were on DVD either. i think my birthday will come earlier than usual this year:D

  10. Funny! I just watched that episode and was googling for the recipe from it! Those are the EXACT quotes that are so memorable from the episode.

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