Julia: Borrowing Hollywood buzz for the real thing on PBS

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.

Frugal Gourmet Jeff Smith dies

Jeff Smith, a popular advocate for simple and multicultural cooking on public TV, died in his sleep July 7 [2004] 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.

Empowered to cook: Julia gives us the courage, shows us her joy

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.