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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 half.com.

                                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.

                                    2. I think Scrambling took the wrong approach. While it certainly is true that there are some people out there who actually like Sandra Lee and think she is a culinary icon. And that Fn is the be all and end all when it comes to food. There are also many more who do in fact want to cook properly. MTAOFC provides aspiring cooks the chance to do so in a straight forward and no nonsense way.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Withnail42

                                        I agree. An ever increasing vice in our time is the ease with which so many are so condescending when it comes to the masses. Of course I'm above all that ;-)

                                        Ms. Schrambling seems to think buyers can't even understand the title of the book. Would you buy "Mastering the Art of Automobile Maintenance" and think it would simply regurgitate your cars owner's manual on when to change the oil and tire pressure?

                                        The very first recipe sets the reader/participant up for success. Potage Parmentier (Leek and or Onion and Potato Soup). Dead easy, inexpensive and delicious. That recipe got me hooked on MTAoFC thirty years ago.

                                        1. re: MplsM ary

                                          <The very first recipe sets the reader/participant up for success. Potage Parmentier (Leek and or Onion and Potato Soup). Dead easy, inexpensive and delicious. That recipe got me hooked on MTAoFC thirty years ago.>

                                          Ditto, but 40+ years ago! Funny that I haven't made that tasty soup in many years. It will be one of the first things I do when we get to "Soup Weather."

                                          1. re: ChefJune

                                            Her Onion soup is to die for!!! You should try it.

                                      2. Although Schrambling doesn't expressly discuss it in her Slate article, she does link to an article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/din... ) that makes a significant point about MtAoFC: the book is a product of restaurant technique, not home cooking. Remember, Julia's introduction to French cooking came at Le Cordon Bleu - a place where chefs are trained, not where home cooks receive remedial lessons.

                                        Julia's boeuf bourguignon, with its laborious multiple steps, isn't the shortest route to a hearty French stew, it's the apotheosis of that dish. Are there simpler recipes? Absolutely. And some of those recipes (**not** the ones that involve cream of mushroom soup) are every bit as traditional as the version in the book. But anybody with a palate can tell that the more time-consuming version is subtler, more complex, and, well, just better.

                                        I've been cooking recipes taken from (and, more often, inspired by) MtAoFC for decades. It isn't the book you turn to if you need to get dinner on the table in half an hour. Rather, it provides exacting interpretations of classic dishes. There's no reason not to make simpler versions of boeuf bourguignon, but on the other hand, it's nice to have a benchmark to which those simpler versions can be compared.

                                        While the Sandra Dee fans of the world will probably slam the book shut in horror upon seeing that it requires lots of real ingredients and many, many steps, those with the time, the patience, the basic skills, and the interest in food can make any of the recipes. And by doing so, will probably learn a lot.

                                        11 Replies
                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                          Julia is very clear in My Life in France that she was writing MtAoFC for the American housewives who no longer had maids to do their cooking for them. True, it wasn't for the housewife who wanted dinner on the table in 30 minutes, but it was still intended for the American *home cook,* and not for restaurant chefs, regardless of where Julia trained.

                                          1. re: charmedgirl

                                            You don't have to read "My Life In France" to learn about the book's target audience. MtAoFC's very first sentence begins "This is a book for the servantless American cook."

                                            But wait, there's more. It's for the servantless American cook "who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children's meals, the parent--chauffer--den-mother syndrome, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something good to eat." In other words, the book may be aimed at the home cook, but the recipes it contains are not everyday home cooking.

                                            And how could they be? Julia Child knew little or nothing about French home cooking when she, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck began writing the book; her only exposure to French cuisine was the training she had received from chefs. Thus, as Julia Moskin put it in her article, the book "has chefly fingerprints all over it."

                                            I didn't say the book was written for chefs, I said it was a product of the restaurant technique taught at Le Cordon Bleu. Nothing wrong with that. It's the home cook's job to put dinner on the table. It's a chef's job to pull the stops out and put a spectacular dinner on the table. MtAoFC points a home cook in the direction of the latter meal.

                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                              Um, wow.

                                              I misread your statement that "the book is a product of restaurant technique, not home cooking .... Julia's introduction to French cooking came at Le Cordon Bleu - a place where chefs are trained, not where home cooks receive remedial lessons." I read it to mean the book was meant to teach chefs restaurant technique. I see that is not what you said, and I apologize.

                                              1. re: charmedgirl

                                                I could have been clearer; certainly no apology is necessary. Now, what's for dinner?

                                                1. re: charmedgirl

                                                  I believe that Julia once commented that she was a "cook" while Jacques (Pepin) was a "chef" during an episode in which they were teamed together.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      <"Chef" = chief = boss of a kitchen.>

                                                      of a Professional Kitchen. ;)

                                                2. re: alanbarnes

                                                  <And how could they be? Julia Child knew little or nothing about French home cooking when she, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck began writing the book; her only exposure to French cuisine was the training she had received from chefs. Thus, as Julia Moskin put it in her article, the book "has chefly fingerprints all over it.">

                                                  As well, when Julia wrote Mastering, she had never even cooked in the US (post Cordon Bleu)! That's part of why I've always felt that "From Julia Child's Kitchen," and "The Way to Cook," are so much better for MOST American cooks. They reflect the training she had, while also having a more American point of view.

                                                  1. re: ChefJune

                                                    I agree that The Way to Cook is a better starting cookbook for most cooks (not just Americans). But although the inspiration is clear, it's a general-purpose cookbook, not a guide to French cooking. If you want a guide to hard-core old-school frog-eating cuisine, MtAoFC stands alone.

                                              2. re: alanbarnes

                                                I agree with your response, and my experience with MTAFC (one and two) is similar. I also find the book to take the role of a kindly but exacting mentor, who will---if I just slow down, listen and learn--CORRECT many bad habits I've acquired over the years, through ignorance or mere repetition. For instance, I've been making ratatouille since the days of "The Vegetarian Epicure" (after all, isn't this murky vegetable stew the the epitome of early Hippie vegetarian cookery? Toss in everything but the kitchen sink, simmer forever, and eat it because it's damned good for you? ;-) merely to use up excess vegetables in the garden. I ate it. I didn't really like it...it was dark, slimy, boring...

                                                SO! After seeing J and J for the third time, I dusted off my copy of MTAFC and--since it was August and the garden was over-productive--I went with the old familar rat-tat-tat (my mother's nickname) again. BUT this time I followed her recipe exactly. Wow. The food that resulted was superb: delicate, colorful, and with the distinct characteristics of each ingredient not mushed and lost, but melded yet still distinct. It was the very best ratatouille we'd ever tasted. It only took me over 30 years to discover. Hah!

                                                1. re: Beckyleach

                                                  Oh, damn! An embarrassing Senior Moment! I now see that, down thread, I made almost the exact same comments back in September...blush. I didn't even remember writing that first response when I added one, today. Sheesh. Oh, well...two for the price of one. Sorry !

                                              3. This set of books makes me very happy. When I choose to cook from it, I have decided to commit two or even three days to bring something extra special to the table. It becomes a quest... find the perfect ingredients, prepare them myself, brown, stir, grind, oven up, oven down, whatever the recipe indicates. Sometimes, she gives you a choice, pancetta or pork fat, sometimes her way is the only way.

                                                My two favorite recipes to date: country pate and cassoulet.

                                                1. no one has mentioned The French Chef cookbook. That was the book that went with the TV series. Recipies are not complex as they had to be prepared in the 30 minute limit.

                                                  1. After more than 35 years, Julia's book is finally a best seller. I would be curious to know how many people who recently bought the book will actually cook from it, at least more than one or two reciples. I learned to cook in the 70's from cooking almost every recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking V1. The book is not just a collection of recipes but a treatist on cooking tradtional French food and the proper way to cook it. What I learned from it has been invaluable. But if I am in my 20's today and want to learn to cook, I don't think it would be my first choice. How one learn to cook has changed, what we cook has changed and so has French food.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: PBSF

                                                      I already knew HOW to cook (even Boeuf Bourguignon) when I got Volume 1, but you are so right. Julia's instructions leave nothing to the imagination, and I too, cooked many, many of the recipes, and by so doing, learned to "cook French."

                                                      I just gifted my bil's goddaughter with the book (at her request) and she is doing much the same as I did. She's already called to say how easy the book is to follow, and she doesn't understand what the fuss is all about. (She's 35.)

                                                      I subscribe to the notion that a cookbook is a "success" if I find even one great recipe within. Mastering supersedes that by a country mile!

                                                      1. re: ChefJune

                                                        What a sweet story about regifting the book and the success she is having. Maybe all of these people will dip their toes into the water of MtAoFC, discover that it's not that hard, and the renaissance will bloom (or, blossom, it appears that the bloom is underway, perhaps, with sales of the book shooting to #1).


                                                    2. I think it's a really telling characteristic of the current generation if they find Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking challenging. I guess maybe for the ADD/instant gratification crew, its recipes are difficult, but it remains one of the most well-written instructional books on cooking out there. Everything is explained in minute detail, every step of every recipe is layed out clearly, and many of the recipes aniticpate problems that the user might have with the recipes and provides trouble-shooting (I'm thinking of the mayonnaise recipe and the fixes for a turned sauce contained therein).

                                                      I taught myself to cook from MTAOFC when I was 14. I was a fast reader, but in no way a sophisticated foodie at that age, and I adored cooking from her book, just precisely because it had so much instructional detail. I feel sorry for people who find a book like this too challenging, as it's one of the few cookbooks I've ever cooked from where every single recipe I've ever made from it turns out deliciously and is worth the effort.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: DanaB

                                                        I agree with you, and I would purchase it for a younger person because, even if someone starts out being more comfortable with the style of more contemporary cookbooks, I I think most people who take to cooking grow to want bigger challenges.

                                                        I also have this thing that the proficient cook should understand at least something about the three Great Cuisines. (I'm sorely lacking on the Chinese front, but I'm trying to learn about it.) MTA is excellent for explaining some of the differences between cooking in the U.S. and cooking in France.

                                                        1. re: DanaB

                                                          I totally agree with you. I, too, used MTAOF when I was 13 as my beginning book. It is probably one of the most basic books in my culinary library of over 400 books! It certainly is not one of my favourites from a cooking perspective, yet it is a classic. Regardless of your cooking abilities it is a wonderful book to have on your shelf for a good read as well as using it for cooking.

                                                          Like you I feel sorry for those who believe that it is a challenging book. It truly is not. BUT I have more time to pursue my obsession with food and cooking than many folks so I prefer something that affords more creativity and the use of more exotic ingredients. Just my personal preference. : )

                                                        2. I think it's true that most people who buy it won't cook from it much if at all, but it has nothing to do with Rachael Ray.

                                                          I'm perfectly capable of executing those recipes but it's one (two) of the least useful of the 25 or 30 English-language French cookbooks I own, second only to Escoffier. It's dated and, unlike her later books, many of the recipes are unnecessarily complicated due to her following hotel / restaurant methods she learned in school.

                                                          They'd be much better off buying her "The Way to Cook," which is one of the most useful cookbooks ever published, or any other of her later books.

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                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            It's very funny how people can have such differing views of the same book. If I had to pick one cookbook to use for the rest of my life, it would be MTAOFC, Vol. 1, hands down. I have The Way To Cook, but have never found it particularly useful for the kind of cooking I do, while Vol. I of MTA has everything going for it. Not that I don't like The Way To Cook; it's a good book. But for me I'd rather turn to Bittman's How to Cook Everything for general American cooking and reserve Julia for French methods, which more clearly shine in MTAOFC. The sauce chapter in MTA, in particular, has been extraordinarily useful to me over the years. While I haven't made the creme brulee, I don't think I've ever made a recipe that was unnecessarily complicated. In fact, when I've shortcut (like not braising veggies before sauteeing or using in further preparations), the dishes turn out fine, just not as great as the original. I put her in the category of chefs like Judy Rodgers or Suzanne Goin or Marcella Hazan. Sure, sometimes the recipes are technical and exacting, but the payoff is worth it.

                                                            1. re: DanaB

                                                              Definately worth it, and its fun to learn a new and practical technique. I work with children and it is so hard to get them to like nutritious things and the more variety that's used the more likely they are to try it. That's where these recipes are great; you see veggie recipes that you never see anywhere else. I love how she gratins them in cheese! A little cheese is good for your believe it or not! Stuff like this could help them turn away from all the fast food and junk food. I mean I'm not saying they feed this stuff in the school cafeteria, but I just find when they are given a variety they make healthier choices. My fiance would not eat greens until I tried them gratines with chese and he loved it, as well as the creamed spinnage. She says you could also cream it with broth, but I use the real cream.

                                                          2. It is not all that difficult. My 1983 edition has many stains. They even explain how to improve canned broth if you don't have home-made. Not fast food but not all THAT bad.

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                                                            1. re: sharonanne

                                                              The daube recipe is good. Our copy's spine is broken to that heavily stained page.

                                                              On the other hand, some of the recipes would never have gotten into print in her later books. Check out the crème brûlée recipe for a particularly egregious example.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                The daube recipe is indeed good (and check out Richard Olney's masterful take on daubes in his Simple French Food). And yes, no one will ever want to make every recipe in Mastering, and yes, times have moved on. But to get back to the original rpiece by Schrambling. She smothers some true (if not especially original) points about the film's effects on Child's real legacy by assuming no one could possibly cook anything successfully from Mastering--even she, alas, could not. Quel horreur. Wrong. As posters have catalogued, there are gems within for most serious cooks, even if we might turn to them only for a long Sunday dinner. Schrambling's by now predictable shtick is always some kind of deflating snark directed at food scene big egos, but here she fall flat as a crepe sarrasin.

                                                              2. re: sharonanne

                                                                Not once you get the hand of it; and there are simpler stuff. For some reason everybody turns to the complex stuff like beaf boulon, but there's potato soup recipes. I like the potato pancakes; I would have never thought of putting swiss cheese or cream cheese in potato pancake! I'm not a carb phobic though; I'm pro-carbs. She also has sauce recipes; the cheese sauce is so easy and she says you could use it on veggies or pasta, actually she has a homade noichis recipe (or however you spell it) that I want to try. Now that I am getting married I am trying a lot of new recipes I would have never attempted. When I get my own place and do more of my own recipes, I will try even more of them, but I have tried MANY already. Actually my fiance bought the book for me for my Birthday, but I don't get it yet, still I cheated and used some already.

                                                              3. I was rereading the introduction and was struck by this particularly dated phrase:

                                                                "... the book could well be titled 'French Cooking from the American Supermarket,' for the excellence of French cooking, and of good cooking in general, is due more to cooking techniques than anything else."

                                                                I guess that view might have been common among French chefs in the Escoffier-dominated 40s and 50s, when she went to Cordon Bleu and wrote the book, but it was certainly well out of favor by the 70s, when nouvelle cuisine had become dominant.

                                                                Also, supermarkets didn't suck as badly in the 50s as they did later and do now. Most still had butchers on staff. Produce was somewhat more seasonal and hybrids hadn't yet supplanted traditional varieties.

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                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  True, but in comparison to many recipes today, she did make a good effort to not call for things you can't find and I find most of her stuff could be found in stores, aside from a few things that I would just omit.

                                                                2. I have been using this book since the 70s

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                                                                  1. re: wincountrygirl

                                                                    What the movie and the book's new popularity has done for me is make me SLOW DOWN and pay more attention to Julia's technique and specific advice, for the first time in the life of this Hasty Hobbit. I've been cooking for 30 years, own hundreds of cookbooks, studied culinary history in graduate school, but there are things I just NEVER learned--drying the meat before browning, for one (to cite one notable moment in the movie ;-).

                                                                    So, I've hauled out my old copy of MTAFC, added Volume Two, and am re-learning things I glossed over in the first place, and it's been exhilarating. Yes, some of her information is terribly dated (and the sections on vegetables, for the most part, make me cringe) but there are gold nuggets in the books and we all can benefit from them...

                                                                    For instance, as an Old Hippie, I've been making ratatouille since the 1970's. ;-) I thought I knew it inside and out, up and down, and just assumed one always ended up with a dark, murky brew of primordial mush....Last week, I followed Julia's recipes TO THE LETTER and was blown off my high horse! I cooked quick and hot, rather than slow and low (always assuming I needed the long simmering to obtain richness)....the result was an amazing medley of rich flavors yet something that likewise retained the individual characteristics of each specific vegetable, and even decent textures.

                                                                    1. re: Beckyleach

                                                                      I bought it...LOVE it and have made several of Julia's recipes and have enjoyed every one of them....as I type boeuf a la mode is braising in my le creuset in the oven!!

                                                                      1. re: Beckyleach

                                                                        I like her vegetable section; like the recipes how how to cook them. Some of the recipes are a lot of work.

                                                                    2. Shoot, I've got several cookbooks on my shelf that are just for show or mindless drooling that I'd never prop up on the counter and follow the actual recipe. I'm not really good about following the rules, I just like a brief overview of the basic concept and ingredients and off I go. Between years of trial and error and just reading my cookbooks for enjoyment I can go off-script without severe and lasting culinary damage most times. Besides, if I actually took the time to Master French cooking, I'd never get around to anything else.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: podunkboy

                                                                        I've made several recipes from that book...but mostly I just love to read cookbooks..and have them. I agree with you on following rules or recipes to a T...it drives me nuts. I still love her book and have had it a long time.

                                                                      2. This really says everything you need to know about Slate.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: sophie fox

                                                                          It does, doesn't it? Way too much of our "news" these days comes from a handful of people between 25 and 35 who live a specific kind of lifestyle in a large urban media center: NY, LA or SF (which isn't large in terms of "old" media but is in the center of "new media") and who don't seem to realize that just because everyone they happen to know lives like that, their lifestyles aren't typical, even for the people who read their stuff online.

                                                                        2. Pierre Franey published a long-time column in the NYTimes "60 Minute Gourmet", along with several cookbooks about the same philosophy, often endorsing ... shortcuts, dependent on the latest food.. technology. While he espoused fresh and simple dinners, he was absolutely NOT above canned or frozen goods utilized to present a balanced meal.

                                                                          Rachel Ray is as annoying as as a squeaky hinge, and she has absolutely no real cooking "chops", but she is today's answer to a populist approach to "real" cooking.

                                                                          Is it "better" than Julia Child or Pierre Franey? Hell to the NO... is it better than ... nothing?

                                                                          Sadly, maybe.. but I still hold out for the burgeoning... real, local, food movement. Shoot - I'm planting container gardens this year - and I kill every plant I've ever looked at. I just want not to pay crazy-high prices and feed my son something that actually *tastes* like real food...

                                                                          1. I cooked from MTAOFC for years, back in the day. I no longer cook such rich, fussy dishes, and don't know who would want to eat them, if I did.

                                                                            1. If I hadn't started learning how to cook by using MtAoFC I don't think I would have managed to learn good technique. Just seeing the Master Recipe and the variations taught me so much about how things worked. How to learn a basic technique and then fiddle with it; add stuffs that you had on hand, and experiment. Other books don't show as clearly the connection between dishes and their techniques. That, to me, is the most important lesson!

                                                                              I found the recipes to be quite easy to follow, and very informative for a beginning cook. I can honestly say that if it wasn't for this book I would not be as accomplished as I am in the kitchen. And yes, I still read it! Although I have to say I cannot for the life of me make the blender hollandaise sauce "easy enough for an eight year old child". I can only make it by hand.

                                                                              1. Since when was SLATE ever the canonical source in such matters? Who cares about the hairline scratches Schrambling manages to etch into Child's rock-solid reputation? Mastering the Art isn't for ADHD wannabe cooks who can't follow a recipe that spreads beyond a single page. It's work, requires some basic skill, and does take time. I guess I define "daunting" as a bit more involved than finding a parking place at Whole Foods.

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                                                                                  1. re: Kagemusha

                                                                                    Yes, well said. With on or two exceptions, the calibre of "chefs" on food network is mediocre at best. Has anyone watched "Next Food Network Star"? That said, if you can stand her antics, Anne Burrell is a very talented chef with some very good information. Ina also does not fit the mold for the usual FN star.

                                                                                  2. The truth is, I don't cook from *most* of my cookbooks but that doesn't mean I don't want to own and read them!
                                                                                    I am not afraid of a recipe, either. :)

                                                                                    1. <on a nightstand, handy for vicarious cooking and eating.">

                                                                                      and what, my Chowhound compadres, is wrong with that?

                                                                                      fwiw, many of the recipes in MTA are long because Julia gives detailed descriptions to aid the cook in the successful outcome of the dish. This book was way before the inclusion of step-by-step photos with recipes so Julia gave super-detailed instructions.

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                                                                                      1. re: ChefJune

                                                                                        Exactly--and because it's so precise, there's so much to be learned from it, whether you actually use a recipe or not. I think of it as a technique book rather than a recipe book which are a dime a dozen.

                                                                                        1. re: ChefJune

                                                                                          Thank you Chef June. I have had my copy of volumes one and two since the early 70's. I consider them classics. In this world of fast, on line, Sandra Lee and Rachel Ray, these volumes are for serious cooks. I find it appaling that people can put down anything written by Julia. She and her books are icons.

                                                                                          1. re: wincountrygirl

                                                                                            Actually, while I own & have cooked from both volumes of Julia's French cooking tomes in the past (& also own all her other books & bios as well), I will continue to most frequently use her more modern "The Way To Cook". Even Julia herself admited that the contents of that book are nothing more than a compilation & modernization of her French cooking volumes geared to the regular working "French" or any other person looking for good, authentic, healthy meals. It's a FABULOUS - & much more important - usable everyday book, & I consider it a hands-down staple that should be present in EVERYONE'S pantry or library.