Today's equivalent of Julia Childs?
I was at the newly remodeled Smithsonian American History Museum where they have Julia Child's kitchen. I overheard a little girl ask who Julia Child's was and her mom replied, "She's just like Rachel Ray." Ow, not really. But, I was talking about it with my friend and she asked, "Who is the equivalent of Julia Childs today?" Is there any female chef, who has that level of fame, outside the culinary world, and is really a chef? Someone that the average child would know as well as she knows Rachel Ray or Sandra Lee?
I have to tell you that I wish you'd not quoted the woman you overheard: this is an interesting question but I bet a lot of this thread is going to focus on how Rachel Ray is not like Julia Child rather than the true question.
You're also going to get strenuous objections about using the term "Chef" with Julia Child. (Brought to you by the same folks who took issue with someone attaching the term to a 5 year old in an internet video.) She didn't ever run a restaurant nor did she claim to be a chef. The criteria of "is really a chef" isn't really appropriate.
Given that, I think this is a particularly hard question to answer in that Julia Child's gift was introducing a form of cooking to the American home cook that they hadn't had access to previously and making it something the home cook could do. Apart from the folks on The Food Network, I can't think of a woman who would be well known across our society on that kind of level. There are many, many talented and gifted women cooking all over the place and several of them are on television (I don't like all of their shows, but they're on TV) but I can't think of any who seem to have moved beyond that to near universal recognition and who teach the kinds of things that Child taught.
I hope it doesn't become a RR bashing thread because it's not what I intended. RR has her place but I don't think sh'es a modern day Julia Childs and I'm sure she'd be one of the first to say so. The more I thought about it, it seemed that the famous cooks we have these days, at least as women go, are more food assemblers.
When they made Julia Child they broke the mold.
I think of her as a cooking teacher.
On the Food Network the closest woman I can think of would be Ina Garten who seems to teach a bit, and before that perhaps Sarah Moulton. Neither introduced a new cuisine but they do try to instruct. When Gale Gand had a show on the FN, she too tried to instruct.
On PBS, Lidia Bastianich does a nice job teaching Italian-American cuisine. She's good.
No one can really replicate what Julia did. I remember when this country was obsessed with new-fangled processed foods... and Julia encouraged home cooks to use fresh ingredients like cloves of garlic instead of garlic powder, and fresh string beans instead of canned... My goodness what breakthroughs! I don't think our society is like that anymore. The availability and knowledge of fresh ingredients has developed over the years and become much more commonplace.
I miss her.
Can't think of a female. If sex is taken out of the equation, Emeril has probably been the most widely recognized over the past decade or so. I think he's already fading away though.
As with an earlier post, I think Lidia Bastianich comes closest to Julia Child. She has the same warm, unpretentiousness, the love of sharing good food. They both instill a sense confidence in that as long as one cook with care, the food will come out delicious. I get the same sense watching Jacques Pepin. All three are natural teachers.
These are dramatically different times, as others have noted. Child took the post-war convenience cooks, who were taking advantage of frozen and prepared foods and introducing them to a different way of thinking about food. It wasn't just preparing things from scratch, most of her viewers grew up with mothers who cooked from scratch, but it was about an appreciation of the European attitude towards food, buying produce and breads fresh daily, making stocks and learning to savor the meal from the preparation stage to eating.
Today, we're overwhelmed with cooking shows and it's become a world of specialists -- not necessarily to the benefit of the viewer. However, the viewing public, while more sophisticated than in the '60's has mostly gone back to convenience cooking.