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A legend is back in the kitchen
SANTA BARBARA -- Julia Child has returned to the world of television, but this time it is in the realm of home videotapes that teach various how-to's of the kitchen. The hourlong tapes will be sold with accompanying recipe booklets.
Julia Child is back in her workmanlike blue apron, impeccably clean towel at hand as she tirelessly cooks her way through a new venture aimed at the home video market.
Instead of another television series, Child has just completed a six-tape course of basic instruction titled "The Way to Cook." The hourlong videotapes are expected to be available by early fall and will be sold through book stores, gourmet shops, video stores and possibly by direct mail, according to Child's publishing house, Alfred A. Knopf, which is backing the venture.
The series marks Knopf's debut in the video field and if successful may lead to additional cooking tapes, said Judith Jones, Knopf vice president, Child's editor and co-producer of "The Way to Cook."
Taped in a studio near Child's part-time home in Santa Barbara, the course covers poultry, meat, vegetables, soups, salads, bread, eggs, fish, appetizers and desserts. Accompanying booklets will include the recipes and indicate where on the tape each step is located. Thus, one can quickly find Child displaying a spatulaful of perfectly beaten egg whites, uncollaring a souffle or using her "impeccably clean finger" to test the warmth of a budding hollandaise sauce.
The tapes focus closely on techniques rather than employing the wide shots and continuous action of such Child shows as "The French Chef," "Julia Child and Company" and, most recently, "Dinner at Julia's."
The flavor will be the same, however, for the staff is the same that produced the Child shows for WGBH-TV, Boston. Russell Morash, who has directed Child since "The French Chef," is executive producer and director of "The Way to Cook." Marian Morash is executive chef, and Dick Holden is the cameraman. Food designer Rosemary Manell led the kitchen staff.
The tapes will be seen first during the Gourmet Products Show May 5 to 8 at Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. According to Jane Friedman, vice president and associate publisher at Knopf, one completed tape and segments of others will be shown on a monitor at the Random House booth. (Random House is Knopf's parent company.) Child herself is scheduled to appear at the booth May 7 and in September will embark on a major promotional tour.
The project grew out of a pilot video disc on chicken that Child and Russell Morash prepared about two years ago. "This seems to be such a wonderful teaching medium. You can go backwards and forwards. You can slow down and freeze," Child said during a brief break for lunch after a morning devoted to quiches, creme caramel and a cheese souffle. The course is aimed at beginners and also at more experienced cooks who need a refresher before tackling the Thanksgiving turkey, a genoise cake, or some other seldom-performed task.
"This show is very much for the general public," Child said. "We are using, on the whole, things anyone can get at the supermarket." Child even goes so far as to allow the use of a commercial frozen pastry shell as a quiche base. For upscale cooks, she shows how to deal with lobster--a live one, of course.
This episode is not intended to leaven the lessons with Child showmanship but to protect the consumer from possible poisoning by an improperly handled cooked lobster from the market. "They go off so quickly," she observed.
Manufacturers who donated appliances and other equipment for use in the taping were aware that Child does not give credit lines. "I don't care what I use as long as it works," she said.
Child chose an electric range for "The Way to Cook." "I'm perfectly happy with electricity if it's good," she said. "I think the gas people have fallen behind. A lot of people are buying professional gas stoves. The domestic ones are junky."
In a sequence on bread, Child employed a small food processor that jumped about with its load of dough as might happen in a non-professional kitchen. "We are trying to use things that people have but encourage them to buy good quality," Child commented.
Budget at $300,000
Knopf budgeted $300,000 for the project. "That is not excessive," Child said. Of that amount, $1,500 a week went for food, all of which was either eaten or taken home. During egg week, Child and crew lunched economically on the quiches, terrines and creme caramel that she had prepared. A large roast beef was saved for the final party.
Child could not incorporate as many recipes and techniques as she wanted within the tight framework of the tapes. Bearnaise sauce and pate a choux (cream puff dough) were among those dropped when time ran out. "You can't have everything. If you don't do it well enough, there is no sense doing it at all," Child said philosophically.
The production schedule aimed at 15 minutes of completed tape each day. Child and Judith Jones worked out the recipe steps to be shown. Then they did a walk-through with Marian Morash in order to plot a time budget that listed the seconds or minutes allowed for each dish or technique, an allotment often exceeded.
Works Without Script
As is her custom, Child worked without a script, developing her lines with Russell Morash, who also molded her expressions. "Uh, no, that had absolutely no zip to it. The eyes are not smiling. Let those eyes really welcome them in," Morash directed at one point during the egg shoot.
Vocal and cooking flubs also called for retakes. "We have a great obligation to make sure what we do here is the best," Morash said. That meant spending more than four hours to get a perfect poached egg. Souffles turned out to be easy. The kitchen crew only had to prepare three of them.
The atmosphere on the set was surprisingly calm. After several mistakes in explaining the basic formula for the custard used in quiches, Child responded to one more failure with a gentle "phooey." Now 72, she seems inexhaustible. After nine hours of taping with only a few moments off for lunch, she appeared as fresh as at the start. "I'm not tired," Child insisted.
Knopf is forecasting a price of either $29.95 or $39.95 for each tape. "We are trying to bring it down to $29.95," Friedman said. "We feel if we can bring (the course) out at a lower price, we will be able to reach more people, and Julia has always wanted us to sell to all range of people." At $29.95 per tape, the total price of "The Way to Cook" would be a few cents under $180. "We feel that is very inexpensive for a full cooking course," Friedman said.