Even as food television progressed into the modern era, with skinny young things chopping and churning, and sass sometimes more important than substance, Child kept her message constant. During an appearance on Martha Stewart’s Christmas show, Child and her host both made croque-en-bouche, a traditional French pastry shaped like a Christmas tree.
“The one Martha made looked like she’d collaborated with Euclid,” says Geoffrey Drummond, who was Child’s executive producer throughout the 1990s. “Julia’s looked like the leaning tower of croque-en-bouche. I didn’t think about it at the time. Julia could make a perfect croque-en-bouche. But she wanted to show that it didn’t have to be.”
Child made it her mission to get women into professional kitchens. She famously took on the Culinary Institute of America, berating the institution for not enrolling enough women, and she regularly kept tabs on the progress of women in the industry.
“Julia always considered herself a feminist. Always. But not in a fundamentalist sort of way,” says biographer Spitz, whose book publication caps the JC100, a 100-day celebration of Child’s life that includes dinners, tributes, readings and other events around the country.
Not everyone who knew her agrees that “feminist” is the word for Child. Sara Moulton, longtime executive chef of the now-defunct Gourmet magazine, was one of the young women she took under her wing. Child arranged an apprenticeship for her in a prestigious restaurant in France, where, in addition to working in the kitchen, Moulton says she was chased around the wine cellar by the chef. Child’s reaction: “Oh dearie, what’d you expect? They’re all like that. Get over it.”
“What I really understood from Julia Child was that if you really, really want something you shouldn’t let anything get in your way,” Moulton says. “I don’t really think it’s feminism. She would have given the same message to a man. She was willing to go into a man’s world and cook this food that women weren’t cooking. She’s a role model.”