Mississippi cooks inspired by Julia Child

JACKSON — Nadia Tyson reaches for “The French Chef Cookbook” by Julia Child and flips through the pages while a smile sneaks up on her face. That’s not her original copy, which was an old faithful paperback still in the family. “It was so worn out, I took it down to the house at the beach so I could have it there.” The hardback joins others by Child in Tyson’s kitchen — “Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1” by Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle and “Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 2” by Child and Beck. “Julia Child has had a great influence on bringing real French cuisine to the United States,” said Tyson, a board member of Alliance Francaise de Jackson, which promotes French language and culture. “But French people cook differently from American people. So she made the meld between the two, which allowed the Americans to be able to fix the French recipes with more ease.” The movie “Julie & Julia,” costarring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, opened Friday, bringing a renewed interest in and appreciation for the first celebrity chef. Based on two memoirs — “Julie & Julia” by Julie Powell and My life in France” by Child with Alex Prud’homme — the movie intertwines the women’s lives with Julie’s quest to cook and blog her way through Julia’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Child’s influence through cookbooks and TV cooking shows stretched from the 1960s into the 1990s. “Her programs, to me, were absolutely wonderful,” Tyson said. “One of the things that my children have thoroughly enjoyed is the fact that, so you break an egg? So it falls on the floor? So you just scoop it up, throw it away and start all over again. “It gave the feeling that French cuisine does not have to be absolutely out of reach,” she said. “It’s not something that you have to hang up on the ceiling and say, oh, I can’t touch that. It put it at the level of a lot of American kitchens.” Another one of those kitchens belonged to Virginia “Binny” Webb of Jackson. Early married life in New Orleans saw a love of dining but a deficit of kitchen know-how. “My mother never cooked. She sent somebody in the kitchen to do it, so I never had cooked,” Webb said. “I decided I better learn how and so I bought Julia Child’s first book. And I just started cooking my way through that book. And I just thought it was wonderful. “I ended up, well, cooking through her second one, too.” Webb’s interest was so intense, she wanted to teach cooking lessons when her children left for college. “I went off and took some myself,” she said, including one of Child’s in Memphis, and more in Europe and around the United States. “Julia got me started,” said Webb. And what got Julia started? “The origin was eating the French food,” said Jeanne Cook of Jackson, also an Alliance Francaise de Jackson board member. “Who doesn’t fall in love with French food?” And Child shared that love, the food and techniques to achieve it, to the American mainstream at a time when the casserole reigned supreme, “as if it were a competition to see just how many cans of ingredients could be combined,” Cook said. French food, with its attention to detail, purity of line and color, fresh ingredients and delicate and complex sauces, was a revelation to Cook as well, on her first visit to France in the 1970s. The detail in Child’s cookbooks, on how to do things and why, made it a great learning book, Webb says. “She worked real hard on making it right so it would turn out right for you. “I just give her a lot of credit and I’m sure she helped a whole lot of people.” Education was a key value Child brought to the table. Entertainment was another, as Child’s unpretentious manner and infectious passion set hordes to cooking. “I have huge respect for Julia Child for many reasons — but especially because she made cooking fun,” said Kathleen Bruno, creative director for Viking Cooking Schools. “I have seen her doing cooking demonstrations with Jacques Pepin and Emeril Lagasse and she always got the biggest laughs.”

Sherry Lucas/The Clarion-Ledger