The One Cooking Rule Julia Child Lived By
Julia Child's timeless wisdom will change the way you cook.
I'll never forget the day I decided I couldn't cook black eyed peas. Of course, I'd long mastered the art of boiling water and adding salt. But culinary school has a strange way of stripping you of your knowledge and resetting your cooking building blocks to square one (boiling, poaching, steaming, sautéeing...). There I stood in my starchy white chef's coat peering into my pot again and again to see if I had achieved the right level of chewiness. My culinary school director happened to walk in. I think she saw the fret and fear on my face, because she invited me to come in the next morning to practice with her.
So off I trudged in January slush for a 7:30am practical on making black eyed peas, something I thought I'd been successfully doing for over a decade. Turns out, flicking the stove on helps. As James Schend reveals in an essay in Taste of Home about meeting Julia Child, I definitely could have learned a thing or two from her in my moments of culinary despair. In fact, if only I had heeded the advice of Jukies, perhaps I could have saved myself from bleary-eyed private tutorials and countless trips to my grocery store bulk bin to pick up more "practice beans."
Schend writes, "In 1995, I was selected as one of the 10 Best Student Chefs by Food & Wine magazine and was invited to attend their festival in Aspen, Colorado. The 10 of us helped prepare the recipes the master chefs were going to demonstrate." He continues: "Julia was going to be demonstrating the classic Nicoise Salad, which hard-boiled eggs are one of the main ingredients. Hours before her demonstration we started to prepare all her ingredients. Oddly enough, not a single one of us remembered we were almost a mile and a half above sea level, and water boils at around 190° instead of 212°. So our 12-minute eggs were practically raw. In fact, nothing was cooking like it should. So we did what came natural to us: We panicked."
That all changed when Julie Child walked in the kitchen in medias res, she shared some much-needed words with the frenzied pupils, "Alright, the first thing you need to do is relax because you won’t find a solution if you don’t.”
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I often find myself repeating Child's words to myself — both inside of and outside the kitchen. To this day, the simple principle reminds me to take a deep breath, set up my mise en place, and, yes, turn the burner on.