The late French Chef Julia Child is getting a burst of extra attention with the Aug. 7 release of Julie & Julia starring Meryl Streep as pubTV’s breakthrough, endearingly unpretentioius cooking teacher. So both PBS and WGBH, Child’s earliest pubTV home, are capitalizing on the movie debut with an online compilation, an in-person panel recorded for the Web, and a retrospective August pledge special. PBS’s video portal just launched an online anthology of five French Chef episodes, eight of Baking with Julia and 13 of Julia Child Cooking with Master Chefs. A related “Bon Appetit Collection” page holds 13 Made in Spain programs and 23 segments from Everyday Food, including recipes and cooking tips.
Jeff Smith, a popular advocate for simple and multicultural cooking on public TV, died in his sleep July 7  in Seattle. He was 65 and suffered from heart disease. The Frugal Gourmet, hosted by the white-bearded Methodist chaplain in a striped apron, aired on PBS from 1983 to 1997, making Smith a top chef on the network after Julia Child had established cooking as a staple for public TV. Smith virtually disappeared from public view in the late 1990s after a number of men accused him of sexually abusing them when they were teenagers.
In most sexual abuse cases, it’s one person’s word against another’s. In the Frugal Gourmet’s case, it was his word against 20 or more. Four days before he was to face trial in Tacoma, Wash., Jeff Smith, host of the popular PBS cooking show, agreed July 1  to pay an undisclosed sum to seven young men who had accused him variously of groping, kissing and raping them when they were teenagers. “Based on my interviews with a lot of the principals involved, I think it would have been pretty ugly,” says Deborah Holton, a Portland Oregonian reporter who has followed the story closely. Court TV had asked to cover the trial, and it could have featured testimony against Smith from more than a dozen people who didn’t sue him, as well as the seven who did.
The publication last year of a 700-page, hugely detailed biography of Julia Child (Appetite for Life — Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch, Doubleday) has bestirred a Manhattan memory. One evening toward the end of the 1960s, my wife and I were having dinner at La Caravel, a gracious French restaurant in New York. Dining there was a treat; the food was excellent and the service quietly efficient. The place held a special allure for me because it was the site of a superb documentary by Nell Cox, French Lunch. The short film records events in the kitchen from the first luncheon order through a frenetic, almost balletic crescendo of culinary movements at dinnertime — punctuated by the flare of flaming dishes — and finally subsides in a relaxed, post-service meal for the waiters and cooks themselves.