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Devra First on how Joyce Chen and Julia Child changed cooking forever

Plus, the very first reader recipe the Globe ever published, and the column that got 1.75 million letters.

Clockwise from left: Dunkin' Donuts, Julia Child, a grocery store ad, Joyce Chen, a loster, and a former Globe food critic Anthony Spinazzola.Doughnuts and lobster from Adobe; Child by William C. Curtis/Globe file; Joyce Chen from AP; Spinazzola by Wendy Maeda/Globe file

Two Women Who Changed How America Cooks

By Devra First

Before food television became big business, two local women changed the way America ate and cooked.

Joyce Chen introduced diners to dumplings (which she famously called Peking ravioli) at her eponymous Cambridge restaurants. A 1963 Globe review of her Joyce Chen Cook Book called it “the finest book on authentic Chinese cooking ever published in the United States,” but it was through her public television show Joyce Chen Cooks that she had the widest reach. It was broadcast nationally and in several other countries.

The show was filmed in the same WGBH studio as The French Chef, through which Julia Childtaught viewers to make beef bourguignon, bouillabaisse, and perfect omelets. That series and Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking earned her far-flung renown (and a Globe column; the first one, also in 1963, was headlined “Dijon — The Devil’s Own Mustard”). But she was always a Cambridge presence, often spotted shopping at Savenor’s near her home.

Chen and Child encouraged Americans to broaden their palates and open their minds, to take cooking seriously, and to take women seriously as cooks. Through mentorship and by example, they helped create a landscape where chefs such as Jody Adams, Barbara Lynch, Lydia Shire, and their successors could survive and thrive.

— Devra First is the Globe’s restaurant critic and food writer

A Chance for Restaurateurs to Get Revenge on a Globe Food Critic

Anthony Spinazzola started his column Let’s Eat Out in early 1969, and soon developed a reputation for speaking his mind. One disgruntled restaurateur called him “the one critic who actually enjoys killing the great chefs of Boston.” But in 1980, 12 giants of the dining scene — including Anthony Athanas, Edith Ban, George Berkowitz, Moncef Meddeb, and Lucien Robert­ — got their chance for payback when Spinazzola invited them to grade him on a meal he’d prepare for them in the Globe kitchen. He had secret weapons: five charming Spinazzola children as servers; a $1,150 ingredient budget for the likes of escargots and mousse au chocolat blanc; and no fewer than 30 bottles of wine. Despite a few hiccups (goose livers “overcooked to the point of toughness”), the reviews were positive. Then again, it’s possible the restaurateurs held back. “I’m going to mark everything excellent,” Pier 4′s Athanas said before even taking his first bite. “I’m not going to tangle with that guy.”

Five Food Moments, By the Numbers


The first appearance of Housekeeper’s Column, which editor Estelle Hatch would make into the first regular feature about women’s affairs in any US paper.


The year Hatch introduced a “new recipe feature” for readers to share recipes. The very first was from a “Mrs. E. A. T” of Charlestown. Here is her recipe for chocolate cream pie in full:

For cake: 1 egg, 1 cup sugar, ½ cup milk, 3 tablespoons butter, ½ teaspoon soda, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1½ cups flour. Bake in Washington pie tins. For cream: Dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch in 1 cup boiling milk. Add yolk of 1 egg. Beat till smooth. Spread between cakes. For frosting: White of 1 egg, beat lightly, then add powdered sugar till it will not run; melt 1 square of chocolate and add spread on top. [Editor’s Note: These days we don’t advocate eating raw eggs.]


Number of readers’ letters that had come into Confidential Chat (the new name for Housekeeper’s Column) by 1955. Before long, the Sunday magazine had to regularly publish 24-page supplements just to get them all into print.


Number of copies of Fannie Farmer’s The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book published between 1896 and 1930, the year the Globe said that “next to the Bible [it] has probably been most important in the daily life of American families.”


The number of Dunkin’ Donuts outlets in operation when the Globe checked in with founder William Rosenberg in 1964, 14 years after he’d opened his first shop in Quincy. “The dunking business is far from saturated,” Rosenberg maintained at the time. He was right: There are now more than 11,300 worldwide.