How Julia Child Changed the Way We Cook

Stephanie Hersh, Julia Child's assistant for nearly 16 years, weighs in

Child and Hersh

Hersh says that never happened. (Sorry to burst your bubbles.) What actually happened was a little hiccup with a potato galette. In her attempt to flip it, the galette landed on the burner. This was on live television, mind you. Unruffled, Child moved on in her ebullient manner and proceeded as if nothing had gone wrong. It was this easy, approachable manner that made Child appeal even to everyone; even people who didn't like to cook would watch her shows, says Hersh.

Equally important was Child's constant emphasis on using fresh ingredients. At a time when the paradigm in the kitchen was shifting away from actual cooking (sound familiar, anyone?), and convenience mattered more than flavor or presentation, Child was introducing the American cook to what were then novel ingredients — for example, white button mushrooms and artichokes, now available nearly year-round in supermarkets, were things that required a trip to a specialty shop in the post-World War II era. The technologies of the war were being turned toward the purposes of food production — weapons into pesticide and fertilizer, and rations into processed convenience foods such as TV dinners, boxed mixes, and powdered milk and eggs, fed to a population that was growing quickly accustomed to them.

Child, however, capitalized on the countermovement. She saw that in the wake of the war, the cost of traveling had decreased, allowing people to travel to France, Europe, and other "exotic" regions beyond, and they came back enamored with the cultures they had encountered. They were willing to try new things.

But who could make new things like complex French cuisine accessible? That's where Child came in. Hersh says that Child opened people's eyes to the fact that there was a variety of food, encouraged them to try new recipes, to take food and food preparation seriously again, but at the same time, to have fun.

So it may be more accurate to say that Child rescued home cooking instead of transforming it. And in light of some rather unsettling statistics on the state of cooking today (on average, Americans today spend only about 30 minutes a day cooking, if they cook at all), perhaps it's time another Julia Child came along to remind us just how important it is to cook — really cook, not just open up a can of soup, heat it up, and call it a meal. So, if you really want to honor Child's legacy, the simplest thing you can do is to get in the kitchen, and just cook something.

Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.