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Sep 1, 2009 04:00 AM

Slate: Don't Buy Julia Child's MtAoFC: You Will Never Cook From It

Obviously, the author of this piece, Regina Schrambling, doesn't know about the ambitious and passionate Home Cooking 'hounds! Nevertheless, I thought this was an interesting opinion piece to add to the pile of interesting opinion pieces on the recent surge of interest in Julia Child.

"The inconvenient truth is that although the country's best-loved "French chef" produced an unparalleled recipe collection in Mastering the Art, it has always been daunting. It was never meant for the frivolous or trendy. And it now seems even more overwhelming in a Rachael Ray world: Those thousands and thousands of cookbooks sold are very likely going to wind up where so many of the previous printings have—in pristine condition decorating a kitchen bookshelf or on a nightstand, handy for vicarious cooking and eating."

And she concludes with:

"None of this is meant to take away from Julia Child's phenomenal achievement. Her book, and the television series that made the recipes look so doable, really did change how America cooked at a time when housewives (and even restaurant chefs) desperately needed encouragement to move beyond casseroles and TV dinners. But given how arduously she protected her integrity, never endorsing products, it's a little disconcerting to see her masterwork being shilled like a Shrek tie-in at Burger King, with promos wrapped around every copy sold.

Once the mania subsides, Julia Child will still be huge. It will be the movie that looks small."


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  1. After seeing the movie, Mrs. Sippi, like most people just had to have the book. I haven't used it yet but I can see where Slate is coming from. This is not open cans and everyone into the pool.

    That said, I consider myself rather accomplished in the kitchen and have no problem undertaking her recipes. Since it seems to be the gateway drug I'm gonna start with the boeuf bourguignon.

    After that, whatever Mrs. Sippi wants, Mrs. Sippi gets.


    1. The key phrase in the essay would be "in a Rachael Ray world." Fortunately, many of us never have and never will live in a Rachael Ray world.

      18 Replies
      1. re: rockycat

        That's exactly where my eyes focused and latched onto. Luckily, I'm not in the Rachael Ray world. And I *did* help cook from MtAoFC this past weekend. While the layout was unfamiliar (to me, as I do not have it in my library of cookbooks), and you often had to flip to another recipe that was included in the main one, it was not difficult.

        I'm rather amazed that the writer pointed out the Boeuf Bourguignon as difficult (even though it's a "beginner recipe"). It's really not. That was one recipe we made this past weekend. Granted, we didn't even USE the beef stock (didn't need it after adding the red wine - we made 1.5x the recipe but once the wine was added, the beef stock was unnecessary). And if we had used it, it would have been Kitchen Basics. Julia's OK with that. But we did make the Brown-Braised Pearl Onions and sauté the mushrooms and do the lardons as Julia recommended. Sheesh, how HARD is it to sauté mushrooms, for crying out loud?

        The other recipes we made were not difficult recipes (Potato & Leek Soup and Chocolate Cream) but for anyone with a modicum of common sense and a willingness to learn, you can get through the recipes - at least the simple ones you can!

        Oh - AND we used butter. At every turn. Yes, perhaps our arteries are a bit more clogged than they were when we woke up on Saturday morning, but dammit, we're happy! LOL

        I'm will agree with the writer that this is not an every day cookbook. But if it gets people willing and able to attempt dishes that don't include processed foods, I'm all for it.

        1. re: LindaWhit

          Please, God, I pray I never inhabit the Rachel Ray world. Julie's recipes are not *easy*, they require you to engage, but if you do, you will be well rewarded. I haven't cooked my way through the book or anything, but I've made countless dishes from it and consider it an invaluable reference.

        2. re: rockycat

          I'd rather people try cooking Rachel Ray recipes than not cooking at all. For a lot of people that is their reality. I understand the serious home cooks will not being interested in Rachel Ray, I know I'm not interested in her books, but there is a place for her. I don't think she should be viewed as negatively as she is. Her intent is not to cater to the serious home cook. Her audience is people that have never really cooked at all.

          Making a Rachel Ray meal is better then heating up a TV dinner. If she's changed a few people then I think that's great.

          Rachel Ray can be the gateway drug to better cooking.

          1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

            Very well said. I couldn't agree more. Especially because I feel very strongly that cooking really pulls people together. It makes a family feel cared for, I think people eat better nutritionally speaking when they cook for themselves, and I think that the people eating the food care more about it when they know someone took the time to prepare it for them. And if Rachel Ray's approach makes cooking feel less intimidating for some people, that is a good thing all the way around. And I agree with hudson that there are probably a lot of people who started out in "Rachel Ray World" and as they gained confidence, moved on to more challenging and satisfying cooking.

            1. re: flourgirl

              It's not the Rachael Ray world that I object to, it's her recipes and sloppy technique. People act as if no one ever cooked before Rachael Ray and that she is doing something unique. There are scores of cooks out there who have written books on making fast and easy meals long before Rachael Ray and they did them much better than she did and will continue to do so long after her 15 minutes are up.

              One thing I've noticed is that people who don't cook, aren't going to cook because some perky TV cook pretends she can make a meal in 30 minutes. Sure, she has inspired some people to get into the kitchen, but most people I know who use her recipes already know how to cook. I doubt if you took a national poll, you would really see all that many more people cooking since hte Rachael Ray show aired.

              1. re: Avalondaughter

                Some of her fans didn't cook before her show. Also most home cooks are not discussing technique and knife skills. They are just trying to feed their family as part of their busy lives. Rachel Ray fits into today's society where people are strapped for time and need to learn how to cook again. A lot of people in this country are starting from scratch in the kitchen. You can't expect them to pick up the French Laundry cookbook on day one and enjoy it.

                You are wrong about her impact. I know people that didn't cook at all until watching her show. They first watched it for entertainment, then purchased a cookbook to try some recipes out. Their experience with cooking grew from there. Also I work in the marketing research industry and was involved with some surveys regarding Rachel Ray and you'd be surprised at her impact.

                While the concept of a 30 minute meal might not be unique, no one has been as successful as her in developing that concept. Like her or not she has been extremely successful. I admire anyone that can succeed in that way, even if I don't make her meals.

                Rachel Ray does not portray herself as a chef. She's not trying to be something she is not.

                1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

                  My toddler niece loves Rachel Ray (she's smiley and exaggerated and enthusiastic and uses baby-talk-like slang) and she's interested in learning to cook. Of course she probably would be anyway, but I'll bet Rachel Ray makes it seem more accessible to her even at her age.

                  1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

                    You don't need fancy knife skills, but if you teach REAL, practical technique, then you don't need some supermarket food demo girl to show you how throw 15 ingredients (often expensive ones - and I don't exaggerate the number) into a burger. She is trying very hard to be someone she is not. She oozes phoniness out of every pore. She acts like a girl next door while talking to you about how many times she has been to Italy.

                    I just don't buy that she has that much impact. I said a FEW people, yes, might have gone back to the ktichen because of her. I think her impact is truly overrestimated.

                    For those who do use her as the gateway to the kitchen, It's really sad. There were such better cooks out there who taught basics, and cooked better food, than Rachael Ray, who have disappeared from FN ("How to Boil Water" anyone?) It's a pity people just want to buy her pretty face and obnoxious personality over quality cooking, and no, quality cooking doesn't have to be hard. It doesn't have to be Julia Child or the French Laundry. But why not teach someone a basic recipe for chicken cacciatore (I can make a great one with 6 ingredients) instead of teaching them how to cram 15 ingredients into a cacciatore burger?

                    1. re: Avalondaughter

                      So you don't like her -- that's your prerogative. I don't care much for her, either. But does every program on FN have to appeal to us?

                      I think RR might get people into the kitchen because she makes cooking seem easy and fun. People who want to cook seriously will cook anyway. But people who don't otherwise cook might cook if cooking looked like fun and like something you didn't have to first learn a bunch of "basic techniques" to do.

                      As for putting 15 ingredients into a burger, she's just appealing to a group of people who crave novelty and who are used to going to the kinds of fast-casual restaurants where they offer things like cacciatore burger. Even if it has 15 ingredients it feels more accessible to them because it's a burger, and they know all about burgers, rather than some "weird" dish they've never had.

                      1. re: Avalondaughter

                        "instead of teaching them how to cram 15 ingredients into a cacciatore burger." Umm, I couldn't find this exact burger on the Rachael Ray web-site, but I did review/scan some of her other "burgers." One of her recipes was made, yes, ahem, at Chez Clam the other night. By the Chowpup. The recipe she made, also a turkey burger does not use 15 expensive ingredients. Rather it used 17, non-expensive and relatively common ones. Please note that 5 of said "17 ingedients" includes buns, lettuce, relish, and two types of cheese.

                        The other ingredients are chopped carrots, celery, onion and herbs and spices. I think many agree that turkey burgers need a bit of juicing up, and the chopped, sauteed veggies do serve this purpose.

                        I will have to admit that I was surprised, given her reputation that not one ingredient called for was some overly processed crappy ingredient that I wouldn't buy. And, the burger was tasty and relatively healthy. Who knew?

                        1. re: clamscasino

                          I discovered Rachael Ray about 8 years ago when I was just out of college. I realized it was important to me to cook 'whole food' meals and I didn't have much time to do it. She filled those parameters for me. The shortcuts she calls for (prepared chicken stock, canned beans, canned/boxed tomatoes) I'm okay with. Besides those, everything is from scratch. Now I only have one of her very early cookbooks, but in that first year, I used it exclusively. As someone else mentioned, it was my gateway drug into better cooking.

                          After working through that cookbook, I realized the types of things that I could make in 30 minutes or less. Now that I have two kids, I have even less time to cook and it's even more important to put a meal without processed garbage in it on the table. I don't use her cookbook much anymore (and i really can't stand her or her shows!), but the information I gained is invaluable.

                          I'd love to make my way through some of the more time consuming/advanced cookbooks, but that's going to have to wait until retirement (or at least the weekends!)

                          1. re: christieCA

                            Check out Jacques Pepin's "Fast Food" and "More Fast Food" video series. Both series have cookbooks and the videos are available from NetFlix. Predates Rachael Ray. Jacques uses prepared basics along with fresh to make 30 minute meals from appetizers to desserts.

                            1. re: morwen

                              I have both cookbooks, and I can vouch for them enthusiastically.

                  2. re: flourgirl

                    exactly, home cooked meals are so important for all the reasons you mentioned. If Rachel Ray can encourage more of those meals then more power to her.

                  3. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

                    "Rachel Ray can be the gateway drug to better cooking."

                    LMAO, I love that line! I'm going to have to find an excuse to use it (^_^)Y

                    1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

                      What I don't like about Ray is her recipes claim to be fast cooking and not all are. At least Simone and Child did not claim to be fast cooks. And they tried their best to call for stuff you could find in stores and I have found most you could find in stores. Of course I live on Long Island, but still. I mean half of MAFC call for only a few ingredients, the work load might be much, but less ingredients is better. Whereas Ray calles for so many things; I mean I like to experiment with differnet spices and stuff, but not so many at a time. And not that I can't afford it, but I hate to spend money on all this stuff I will hardly use. I could understand if it was common spices like stuff that goes into a pie, but sometimes she could be a pain. HOWEVER, MANY PEOPLE TODAY like experimenting WITH LOTS OF DIFFERENT spices. I mean the elderly in my family hate that she calls for all this ingredients and I don't blame them, but in this day and age I guess different stuff is easier to get.

                      1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

                        +1 for that sentiment
                        +10 for an awesome one liner
                        Rachel Ray can be the gateway drug to better cooking

                        RR is not a gourmet chef, she never touted herself as one, she appeals to many home cooks who are less than skillful in the kitchen because she herself comes across as accesible and her recipes are acccesible

                        I'd rather have RR cooking for me than Sandra Lee using a bunch of pre-made, overly processed crap to ruin some perfectly good real food

                        1. re: cgarner

                          Yes, or thinking that some 3000-calorie slob burger seen on some man vs food joke TV makes for dinner. Many TV cooks also offer simple preps--Lidia Bastianich, for one--as well as more complicated dishes.

                    2. Regina makes many valid points, tho. At my first opportunity to have Julia Child sign one of her books that I owned, I took "From Julia Child's Kitchen," which I have always used more than Mastering. And for new cooks, "The Way to Cook," is just about as good as it gets for an instructional tome.

                      I studied with Pierre Franey, and love (him and) his recipes, both the 60-minute and otherwise. And Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking may be the dirtiest book on my shelf. ;-D

                      1. I think to Slate's readership, it's a very fair point, made by an author with some authority here (she's a professional cook herself). She's warning people that it's a serious reference book, not for the "flimsies."

                        It's still an invaluable resource for those of us who like things like that.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: dmd_kc

                          Re your last sentence--That was my first thought; that there are various reasons we choose the cookbooks we do and "cooking from them" is not the only one.

                          I don't find Mastering the Art particularly daunting (a few recipes excepted for their preparation time, but I find that about many "serious" cookbooks).

                          Maybe it's because I'm an experienced homecook who was raised at the tail end of that era when this is what people ate and what fine dining restaurants served as a matter of course. I don't really know, but I think Mastering gives explicit, manageable steps that the newer cook should be able to follow. I would think it would be useful to the beginner for information such as the list of cuts that are appropriate for meat dishes, right there at each recipe; things like that. I find it to be more approachable and more "everyday" than MK's Making of a Cook.

                          Except for baking, I don't cook from cookbooks much anymore, unless it's a new dish to me or if I want to make a standard "authentically". For example, I have a piece of bottom round and I thought I might like to do Boeuf a la Mode or a Carbonnade. Now, I've marinaded and braised pot roasts in red wine many times, and I'm capable of tossing beer or ale into a dutch oven without consulting a cookbook. So the keyword there was *authentically*. I bypassed everybody else in the cookbook cabinet (including MK, Beard, David, Rombauer) and went to JC, whom I imagined would be the source on these particular items--and found exactly what I wanted.

                        2. I'm wondering if someone will come out with a "Cliff note" version of the book--how to make the dishes but using cream of mushroom soup, etc.

                          Anyone who wants the book should wait a year or so until people realize they won't use theirs and get rid of it--like getting a great treadmill in March that has only been used as a clothes rack.

                          15 Replies
                          1. re: chowser

                            <I'm wondering if someone will come out with a "Cliff note" version of the book--how to make the dishes but using cream of mushroom soup, etc.>

                            Isn't that how Sandra Lee made a career for herself?

                            1. re: rockycat

                              Yeah, but I mean the entire book, start to finish. MtAoFC without mastering. The shortcuts to French cooking.

                              1. re: chowser

                                Faking the Art of French Cooking? Chowser, you're kinda wicked!


                                  1. re: chowser

                                    Fastering the Art of French Cooking.

                                    1. re: small h

                                      HA! You're even wicked-er!

                                      Anyway, I hope Schrambling is wrong. That a lot of people buy the book, cook from it, love it, and become chowhounds.


                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        Oh, crap.
                                        Why not just throw in the unused linen towel and call it MtAoFC for Dummies.

                                        And that prize selling version will have Campbell soups as a sponser.

                                1. re: chowser

                                  Mastering the Art of French Cooking for Dummies.


                                  1. re: Davwud

                                    Hey, I would buy that book! :-) But, I want the real thing explained in details with pictures, not how to dummy down the real recipes.

                              2. re: chowser


                                I was just thinking that I'm looking forward to MtAoFC showing up in great quantities in secondhand shops and library book sales in a year or so. I think I'll start tracking it on

                                1. re: chowser

                                  I almost bought an old copy at 1/2 Price Books several years ago. It was pretty cheap too, less than ten bucks. I opened it up, glanced through it and wasn't inspired so I didn't buy it. After I heard that a film was coming out I realized that I missed my chance and then I thought of what you did, there will likely be a lot of copies showing up in a couple of years. Now that I think about it, it's one of those books to have even if you don't frequently cook from it. (I get most of my recipes on-line these days).

                                  Speaking of 1/2 Price Books and used books in general...if I had a nickel for every used Dan Brown book I see I could fill my gas tank several times with the proceeds.

                                  1. re: John E.

                                    It's the total absence of food porn photos that puts people off. Comparing "Mastering" to today's cookbooks is like comparing D.H. Lawrence to Hustler. It's never been thick on the ground in used book stores anyway--why would it be?

                                    1. re: Kagemusha

                                      I collect old cookbooks. I have tomes from the 30's which read more like narratives than recipes do now-a-days, and they're labor intensive and impractical for every day use for someone like me, who works full time. That doesn't mean that I love them any less and don't get a kick out of cooking from them on occasion (the best oyster dressing I've ever tried is in one of those books) there are no pictures, and good luck decipering some of them. Especially the old community cookbooks and church cookbooks... they use terms like "set to boil till good and thick"
                                      Thick may mean something entirely different to me than it does to someone else.
                                      +1 John E Some books are a treasure just to HAVE

                                      1. re: Kagemusha

                                        The illustrations are very accurate and I believe the first to be done from the cook's point of view.

                                      2. re: John E.

                                        I bought mine on Overstock. I can't remember how much I paid for it but it wasn't close to full price. After reading My Life in France, I had to read MtAoFC.