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Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonian


Story 4 [of 18] – The French Chef


In the 1950s, educational television programming consisted mainly of lectures, book discussions, science demonstrations, and classical music performances. Julia Child swirled into this stuffy classroom atmosphere in 1962, arriving for a book review show with her book, her husband Paul, a copper bowl, whisk, apron, and eggs. The enthusiastic public response to her impromptu cooking demonstration launched WGBH-Boston’s hit series, The French Chef.


Based on her instantly successful cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia’s first six-year television run made her one of the best-known and most beloved figures in American popular culture. Her natural talent for teaching and for self-effacing and delightful error merged with her immediate grasp of the aims of educational television.


Through television, Julia became an American icon. Julia Child legends, stories, cartoons, parodies, and even impersonations mushroomed. The legends grew as she played herself on The Muppet Show, appeared with the Boston Pops Orchestra reciting “Tubby the Tuba,” and was lovingly and hilariously played by hundreds of others on stage and television.


Julia’s public television cooking show created a model, much emulated by a flood of new cooking shows and star chefs throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1993, The Food Network on cable television began airing cooking and food shows in a round-the-clock acknowledgement of Julia Child’s pioneering role. In the 1990s, Julia turned her home kitchen (and house) into a television production venue for three new cooking shows, In Julia's Kitchen With Master Chefs, Baking with Julia, and Julia and Jacques: Cooking At Home. Quite literally, she brought home the original empowering philosophy of The French Chef: “You can do it!”


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