Episode 1: For the Love of Julia and Boeuf Bourguignon

Since this Podcast is an ode to Julia Child’s love of food, good company, and  the value she placed on human friendship. I thought it was only fitting to start with the same dish with which she began her television career.Boeuf Bourguignon. But let’s talk a little about Mrs. Child’s and her influential television show before we get into the food. Especially as some of you may not even know who Julia Child is. 

Julia Carolyn McWilliams was born on August 15, 1912 in Pasadena, California. Her father John McWilliams Jr.  a prominent land manager and her mother Julia Carolyn “Caro” Weston a paper company heiress. Julia was the eldest of three, and though she would grow to the height of 6’2 her younger sister Dorothy would actually grow to be a full inch taller than Julia. While being a tall woman was great for playing basketball at Smith College it was difficult for women of their stature to not be looked upon as freakish in Pasadena’s polite society. After graduating from Smith College in 1934 with a degree in history Julia McWilliams moves to Manhattan to pursue her dreams of being a writer. She finds a job as a copywriter in the advertising department of W&J Sloane home furnishings. When her mother becomes ill Julia returns home to California to care for her. After Caro’s death in 1937 Julia stays close to home. She begins writing  for local publications, and working with local advertising companies. She also appears in some small theatrical productions. 

In 1942 our country is at war, Julia tries to join the Women’s Army Corps. She is deemed too tall for the role of a WAC and instead becomes a typist for the Office of Strategic Services or OSS, what we would call the Central Intelligence Agency today.  It doesn’t take long for the people at the OSS to realize that Julia McWilliams belongs in research. She is the first researcher in Secret Intelligence working with the director of the OSS General William J Donovan. Ms. McWilliams helps in the development of shark repellent, this was critical because Sharks kept setting off bombs intended for German U-boats.

 While stationed in Ceylon,  modern day Sri Lanka Julia meets Mr. Paul Child. On September 1, 1946 Paul and Julia wed in Lumberville, Pennsylvania. The day before their wedding they were in a car accident, but were married happily with stitches and bandages. 

In 1948 the Child’s move to Paris, France where Mr. Child has accepted a job with the foreign service. And, this dear listeners is really where Mrs. Child’s culinary fascination begins.  In 1949, Mrs. Child enrolled in a course at Le Cordon Bleu culinary institute. After being placed originally in a “housewife” cooking class with young French women that taught how to boil an egg etc. Mrs. Child fought her way into a year long program intended for restauranteurs. Under the tutelage of Max Bugnard, who had worked with Auguste Escouffeir (Escouffeir will be important when we are talking about Bouef Bourginon.) Mrs. Child would enter an all male cooking environment. Other women may have been intimidated, but her eagerness to learn, and more importantly to “show them” would allow Mrs. Child to thrive. In 1951 she would receive her diploma from Le Cordon Bleu after failing her first exam in 1950. During her time in Paris Mrs. Child would be introduced to Simone (Simca)Beck, and Louisette Bertholle. Together they would form “L’Ecole des Trios Gourmandes (The School of the Three Gourmets) charging $5 for each cooking lesson, which hardly covered the cost of the food. This collaboration would lead to Julia Child’s first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking written alongside Lousiette and Simca. After nine years of researching, writing, recipe testing, measuring (on Julia’s part) Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1 was released in 1961.This launches a whirlwind Press tour, and omelet making on live television. Mrs. Child was a natural performer. So it seemed almost inevitable that she would turn her attention to Television. 

 The first episode of the French Chef aired nationally February 2,  1963 from WGBH Boston, Massachusetts. This show was groundbreaking because it was the first time since I Love to Eat a James Beard mini-series that aired in the late 1940s that anyone was in their own television series  for the sole purpose of teaching the viewer how to cook. Mrs. Child introduced french cuisine to the United States at a time when it was considered fancy restaurant fare. Meant for the upper crust of society. The show was shot live-to videotape from beginning to end, leaving little room for error. Though error she did and “teachable moments” became part of her on screen persona. As well as a way to encourage her viewers to try something new. The French Chef was filmed through 1966  but continued to be in reruns on PBS until 1970. Making Julia Child a household name in the United States. Mrs. Child changed the way that American’s cooked, and the way that we think of food. If you’d like to learn more about the life of Julia Child please check out My Life in France, and The French Chef in America. Both written by Mrs. Child’s nephew, Alexander Prud’homme. 

Now for the meat and potatoes of today’s show. 

Boeuf Bourguignon. It’s a stew with roots in Burgundy, France. Burgundy is in East Central France, a well known wine producing region of France. So it should come as no surprise that this stew gets a lot of its flavor from full bodied Burgundy wine. Boeuf Bourguignon rose to the top of the French food chain thanks to Auguste Escoffeir. Escoffeir was a French Chef, restaurateur, and writer of the early 20th century. He ran the kitchen of the Savoy Hotel in London from 1890- 1899. It’s in his time at the Savoy that Escoffier starts to become a celebrity. In 1899 Escoffeir leaves the Savoy to run the kitchen at the Carlton Hotel, with a brigade of 60 cooks. He creates kitchen innovations that still exist in french kitchens throughout the world. It is at the Carlton Hotel that he also creates the idea of an “A la carte” menu. In 1903 Escoffier publishes his first cookbook, Le Guide Cullinare which is where the recipe for Boeuf Bourguingnon first appears. Le Guide Cullinare is still considered to be one of the leading books of the culinary industry. In Escoffeir’s recipe you would use an entire piece of beef braising it over two days. In Mrs. Child’s version the recipe calls for three pounds of lean stewing beef cut into two inch cubes that can be cooked over three hours. While it seems that this dish may have roots in Burgundy it’s also possible that it was an inventive dish of Escoffier’s that he popularized from a traditional lamb stew of Burgundy. Changing the lamb to beef for the bourgeoius clientele of the Carlton Hotel and for the people that would be reading his cookbook.

Sources: With special thanks to