The 1968 Exhibit: Julia Child, "The French Chef Cookbook"

the_french_chef_cookbookTHE COVER: *THE FRENCH CHEF COOKBOOK, by Julia Child. *Published 1968

The publicity bandwagon for the new movie Julie & Julia has been rolling out for a few weeks, so I've decided to jump on it. *Julia Child may seem an odd choice as a 1968 cultural figure, but that year she was approaching the apex of her brilliant career. *Note: *"approaching" the apex, not yet at the pinnacle. Though she had already been on the cover of TIME (1966), she was not yet a parodied figure on Saturday Night Live or Sesame Street. In 1968, if you were a viewer of public television (still called "educational TV" back then), you would have known right away that something called The French Chef Cookbook would be related to the TV show of the same name: "The French Chef," which debuted on WGBH in Boston in 1963 when she was 50 years old. *This was her second book; her first, great book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, had been published in 1961. * The 1968 book was what would be instantly recognized today as a "TV tie-in" book: *it took all of the recipes from the 119 black-and-white episodes of the show and laid them out "as they were shown on the air, in order and without further comment," as she later wrote. *(The next series of 72 shows were in color, and gave rise to what is, in my view, her best book, *From Julia Child's Kitchen). *The cover of this 1968 book is thus appropriate: *a black-and-white photograph, framed as it it were a rounded television screen, depicting the gleeful and substantial (6'2") Mrs. Child wielding a mallet, about to smash into what appears to be a turkey carcass.

That this book should emerge in 1968 is a useful reminder of more than the fact that most Americans still watched black-and-white TVs that year. * * It reminds us of the diversity of the cultural landscape in that phenomenal year. *A cookbook (Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook) topped the non-fiction bestseller lists that year. *Julia Child's popularity could be seen as echoing or presaging other cultural markers: *the rise of a new "middle-brow" culture, symbolized by the rise of the Public Broadcasting Service (Masterpiece Theatre's debut was barely 2 years away); the rise of a consumer-driven food revolution, which led to the eruption of fancy cheese stores and bakeries, trendy wine shops, and high-priced imported food equipment (the Cuisinart debuted in 1971); and the boom in jet-travel tourism that reached into the middle classes (especially Boomer college students) beginning in the 1960s, as millions of Americans jetted off to discover "real" French cuisine, "authentic" Tuscan farmhouses, and the like.

Are "the Sixties" unthinkable without Julia Child? *Well, the history of PART of the Sixties--the part that embraces Janis, Jimi, Fillmore West, dope-smoking, race riots and rebellion--can certainly be told without her. *But for a picture of ALL of the Sixties, she's an essential piece of the jigsaw.