Julia Child Loved Science but Would Hate Today’s Food

It’s her birthday today, and while the master chef loved science she would have hated today’s laboratory produced food


This morning’s Google Doodle pays homage to one of America’s favorite chefs of all time, Julia Child. It’s a big honor, but the woman deserves it, it is her 100th birthday after all.

Child is probably best known for her television show The French Chef, one of the first cooking shows on television. But as she cooked her way through fame and fortune, Child had a soft spot for science as well. Here she is burning some food to make carbon in her delightful, Julia Child way.

Child helped out with another science experiment too – making primordial soup:

Julia Child, famous chef, entertains you in her kitchen by preparing a primordial soup. Her recipe demonstrates how simple inorganic chemicals on the ancient Earth may have been transformed into complex organic compounds, the building blocks of life. In this presentation our chef mixes a batch of raw primordial soup in special laboratory apparatus made to simulate conditions of ancient Earth.

Julia Child spent most of her time in the kitchen acting a lot like a good scientist – trying things to see if they work. Things like blow torches. Here she is using one on a crepe.

But what would Child have thought of today’s combination of food and science? There is something quite different between the specialized, equipment intensive molecular gastronomy of today’s chefs, or the laboratory produced meats and flavors, and Child’s playful, homey experimentation with food. Chances are, she would have hated today’s processed foods, but appreciate molecular gastronomy, says the Chicago Sun Times:

Child once commented on Cuisine Nouveau, molecular gastronomy’s 1990s precursor, “It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate —- you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.” So we can guess what she might think of meat glue and spherified vegetable juice.

And while she was a lover of tools like the blow-torch, and the microwave, she was also a no-fuss kind of chef. Here’s the Chicago Sun Times again:

In The Way to Cook, Child wrote, “I wouldn’t be without my microwave oven, but I rarely use it for real cooking. I like having complete control over my food — I want to turn it, smell it, poke it, stir it about and hover over its every state. …” Child used her microwave for defrosting and melting chocolate and butter and even baking potatoes (she loved baked potatoes with lots of butter).

For all she embraced labor-saving devices, she was a stickler for process. She deplored “elimination of steps, combination of processes, or skimping on ingredients such as butter, cream — and time.”

The clean, sterile laboratory atmosphere of molecular gastronomy doesn’t have lots of room for intentionally burned foods and fingers mucking about in everything. So for today, in honor of Julia, let’s torch some crepes together.

More from Smithsonian.com:
Julia Child’s Thoroughly Modern Marriage

Julia Child in Paris

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