When you hear Julia Child’s name, what do you think of first? Coq au vin or boeuf Bourguignon, perhaps? Or maybe you can’t hear the legendary chef’s name without hearing her sing “Freshness is essential; that makes all the difference!” — the catchy refrain from PBS’s 2012 viral autotune remix video.
For the uninitiated, that video, “Julia Child Remixed,” was made in celebration of what would have been the longtime Cambridge resident’s 100th birthday and today has more than 3 million views on YouTube. John D. Boswell (melodysheep) made the video for PBS Digital Studios.
“That was such a fun moment! The remix managed to capture Julia’s spirit and merge it with the autotune zeitgeist of that time on the Internet,” said GBH’s Senior Director of Programming Ron Bachman.
“Anyone who enjoyed that might also want to check out GBH’s Julia Child GIPHY channel, which has a host of expressive GIFs to share across the Web,” suggested Boswell.
Dec. 26 offers another chance to enjoy the chef’s distinctive delivery of classic cooking techniques during GBH’s fifth annual Julia Child marathon. Episodes of “The French Chef” and “Dishing With Julia Child,” will run back to back on GBH2 from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“The French Chef” dates to 1963, long before Emeril or the Mayor of Flavortown, when Boston’s WGBH began airing the show that introduced Americans to French cuisine.
Born in Pasadena, Calif., in 1912, Child graduated from Smith College in Northampton in 1934. While married and living in Paris, she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu. The Childs returned to the US in 1961, settling in Cambridge.
After coauthoring a cookbook, Julia Child was a guest on GBH’s “I’ve Been Reading” — she arrived with a hot plate, giant whisk, and eggs to make an omelette on set, according to GBH, and enraptured viewers wrote to the station demanding more. Child was asked to tape three pilot shows, and “The French Chef” was born.
The rest is TV history.
“She demystified what many thought to be a rarefied form of cuisine with panache, gusto and, above all, humor,” said Bachman. “It was possible to enjoy her show even if you didn’t know a bouillabaisse from a baseball because she was just so much fun to watch.”
We talked to Bachman about the marathon and Child’s enduring popularity.
Q. What gave you the idea for a Julia Child marathon?
A. The marathon has become something of a holiday tradition for Julia’s local fans. This year, Devin Karambelas, our programming manager, [added] some episodes of “Dishing With Julia,” a series that features contemporary chefs watching and commenting on old “French Chef” episodes and discussing Julia’s influence on them.
Q. What made Julia Child so likable?
A. Julia never made assumptions about what her audience did or didn’t know, and reviewed the basics in a way that was never judgmental. She was able to not only project confidence but to instill it in the viewer. The whole ethos was in some ways the antithesis of many cooking shows today, which either show some unattainable version of haute cuisine or else make the whole experience intensely competitive. “The French Chef” is so eternally beloved not just because of nostalgia, but because it’s truly educational.
Q. What are some of your favorite dishes?
A. GBH Digital actually did a poll asking employees about their favorite Julia Child dishes. Quiche Lorraine came out on top, followed closely by French onion soup, and boeuf Bourguignon [followed by roast chicken and chocolate mousse]. For my part, it’s hard to beat something as rich, warm, and savory as French onion soup, especially this time of year.
Q. Any favorite TV moments or episodes?
A. As for specific episodes, “Flaming Fish” is a lot of fun, not just because you see Julia get very physical with a whole fish that she sets on fire, but because of the delightfully retro field trip to experience the dish at a restaurant. The episode on coq au vin is also interesting, as you watch her cook two different versions of the dish — one with white wine and one with red — side by side simultaneously.
I hope marathon viewers at home will find comfort and inspiration at this strange time when many people are looking for a sense of hope and normalcy. “The French Chef” really does make you feel like you can achieve something truly special in your own home kitchen.
Interview was edited and condensed.