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.

Julia Child’s place in the Smithsonian

Julia Child’s kitchen is now in the nation’s attic, the Smithsonian Institution’s history museum on the Mall, inserted into a miscellaneous area behind the north escalators on the first floor, past the artificial heart, Bakelite radios and Carol Burnett’s charwoman costume. Visitors last week intently watched excerpts from her many pubTV cooking shows compiled for the 2000 pledge special Julia Child’s Kitchen Wisdom. (At one point she advises people to eat the green stuff in lobsters, which she claims is just delicious.) Last fall Smithsonian curators crated up her big, rectangular kitchen in her former home in Cambridge, Mass. They meticulously reassembled it at the museum behind clear plastic shields, complete with pans on pegboards, countertops raised 2 inches for the 6-foot tall cook, and the pipe along the ceiling where TV crews hung lights. “I wish I could come in and turn everything on — it looks exactly right,” Child said at the opening of the exhibit Aug.

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.