Sunday, May 21, 2006

The French Chef Begins at Home

Well, our most recent food magazines (Food & Wine, Gourmet, etc.) have us worked up into a frenzy over grilling--hell, Gourmet's even got us thinking about building our own backyard oven/BBQ pit even if "Grandpa" (our beloved landlord, Arthur) would never, ever let us. But, frankly, it's been a bit wet in these here parts in recent weeks and the grill hasn't gotten nearly as much action as we would have liked. One piece of equipment that has been seeing some action, however, is our DVD player, and one of the reasons for this is that we started watching The French Chef with Julia Child on DVD over the last little while.

Julia & co. 1

After all, BBQing may be getting washed out at the moment, but lobster season just got underway and we had to bone up (hence the photos above and below).

Not only were we already big fans of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vols. 1 & 2 and The French Chef Cookbook, we were true believers (see our post on Coq au Vin, for instance), but I'd forgotten what an experience it was to watch The French Chef and Michelle had never seen the show at all. We're not the hugest watchers of food TV (we don't have cable), but we certainly enjoy the occasional food show on DVD. Revisiting The French Chef, however, was something altogether different: part food show, part history lesson, part seminar in television aesthetics, part character study. Aside from all of the touches that mark the show as "dated"--the hues of the studio kitchen, the electric stovetop, the low-tech gadgetry ("kitchen shears!")--what makes the show truly fascinating is the utter lack of editing, the fact that most of the cuts in the episode amount to no more than a simple switch from one studio TV camera to another. Of course, you see this to a certain extent in contemporary food programming, too, but for the most part it's combined with a big-budget obsession with getting every last touch "just so" and a studied sense of telegenics, so you never really get the feeling that this is one long continuous take the way you often do with The French Chef. Aside from giving the show a look and feel that comes across as "primitive" (read: low-budget, meandering, idiosyncratic), it allows you, the viewer, to see Julia Child open up in a way that you would never see today. The tics, the malapropisms, the digressions, the moments where she gets tongue-tied (in her episode on how to stuff sausages she got tripped up on the ratio between fatty meat and lean meat for what seemed like 5 minutes), and, above all, those looks, those knowing looks with those smiles of hers, create a fascinating effect. Simultaneously, you're reminded of the circumstances of the production at every turn and utterly enchanted by the experience. In other words, the aura of conventional television is punctured over and over again, but it's immediately replaced by another form of aura. We learn a lot from each episode, even if we're familiar with the terrain ahead of time, but more importantly we're fascinated, and we find ourselves turning to one another, speechless, over and over again as we watch. "Did you see that?"

Julia & co. 2, or Still Life with The French Chef

Our love affair with Julia has grown--in fact, Michelle is prone to saying, "I love her!" at least once during each episode. Somehow inviting her into our home has become paired with the illusion of having been invited over to an old friend's--an old friend with a crazy New England accent, that is--for dinner.

"Bon appetit!"

The French Chef with Julia Child, vols. 1 & 2 ("As seen on public television"!) were released on DVD by WGBH-Boston in 2005. Highly recommended.



María Gómez Bravo said...

I discovered your blog and I like it. I am visiting Montreal this days and would like to enjoy the restos here. Please, could you recomend me some places? Thank you!.

María Gómez Bravo said...

Hi! I've just discovered your blog and I like it!. I am visiting Montreal and writing about the First People Festival. I would like to enjoy the restos and food here in Montreral so could you recomend me some restos to go? Thnak you very much.
María Gómez Bravo

kelli ann said...

glad you posted about the DVDs- i have never seen her show either; after recently reading a biography of JC i am smitten, too. i loved reading about how sheer determination got this series made, and kept it going. incredible, really.

aj kinik said...

Sorry for not replying earlier. I was away (with the computer) for a few days. I hope you found our Montreal Food Guide on the sidebar. More importantly, I hope you enjoyed/are enjoying your stay. Cheers.

Hi Kelli Ann,
You're really going to love the DVDs. Among other things, they're a nice reminder of the glory days of WGBH-Boston and PBS more generally. Bon appétit!