Searching for Julia Child

Michael Abernethy

Many vibrant personalities host cooking shows, as well as numerous exceptional culinary teachers. Few individuals are both.

Julia Child


Great Chefs
Travel: M-F 9:30am ET, 1:30pm ET

$40 a Day
Food Network: Fridays 9 and 9:30pm ET, 1 and 1:30am; Saturday 6 and 6:30pm

30 Minute Meals
Food Network: M-F 2:30pm, 6pm; Saturday and Sunday 7am, 11:30am

Dweezil and Lisa
Food Network: Thursdays 4am

Emeril Live
Food Network: M-F 8pm, 12am

The Essence of Emeril
Food Network: M-F 4pm, Saturday 9am

Food 911
Food Network: T-F 11am, 3pm, Saturday 7:30am

How to Boil Water
Food Network: Tuesdays 12:30pm, Thursdays 5:30pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am

Iron Chef
Food Network: M-F 11pm, 3am, Saturdays 10pm, 2am

Baking with Julia
PBS: Check local PBS listings

A few months ago, I came upon a rerun of Baking with Julia. I was delighted to see Julia Child, but also surprised that this 90-year-old woman had lost none of the charm or skill that made her an international celebrity when I was a child. Fully aware of the recent revival of the food show, I wondered if the new crop of hot chefs could compare with the Queen of Cooking Shows.

Before I started my research -- two weeks of watching cooking series -- I assumed that today's tv cooks, even if they possessed Child's technical prowess, wouldn't be nearly so endearing. I was partly right. In fact, many vibrant personalities host cooking shows, as well as numerous exceptional culinary teachers. Few individuals are both.

First, I checked out the line-up on the Food Network. (Unless otherwise noted, all shows mentioned below are on the Food Network.) I found that cooking shows come in three varieties: shows that teach you how to cook, shows that teach how well someone else can cook, and shows that teach you about the foods you can buy already cooked. Many of the network's stars, such as Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray, and Bobby Flay, have more than one show, of different types (Ray hosts 30 Minute Meals, an instructional cooking show, and $40 a Day, which shows travelers how to dine out cheaply). And some shows cross categories: Dweezil and Lisa features rock-pop stars and real-life partners Dweezil Zappa and Lisa Loeb, who travel the country, visiting restaurants and noted cooks.

As a man whose culinary proficiency extends as far as ripping open a box and popping its contents in the microwave, I thought the instructional shows might be most useful. But I found that most are designed for persons with advanced abilities and interests. The chefs use ingredients foreign to me, and some are surprisingly imprecise in explaining quantities. The worst offender here is Emeril. In The Essence of Emeril, he suggests adding "pinches," "dashes," and "little bits." Experienced cooks will understand how much of each spice is appropriate; other viewers are likely to ruin their dishes by measuring wrongly. Of course, all recipes featured on the shows are detailed on the network's website, but if I can learn how to cook a dish better from the website than the show, why bother watching the show?

More suited to the novice is Ray's 30 Minute Meals, designed to help the busy person from preparation to presentation in a half hour. Her meals are simple enough for a newbie to duplicate and her explanations are clear. On one episode, Ray prepared Marinated Flank Grill Steak, BLT Smashed Potatoes (the L standing for leeks, not lettuce), and Oven Roasted Broccolini: perfect for a casual dinner. She also offered appropriate substitutions for ingredients viewers may not have in their pantries. I could make these dishes, although I might do it without Ray's excessive enthusiasm: she "loves" everything she cooks. Some time ago, I watched a couple of episodes of her series; at the time, Ray struck me as a dour and angry woman. Now, she has morphed into the Food Network's Head Cheerleader. A middle ground between her old and new personas would serve her series best.

As practical and interesting as 30 Minute Meals can be, Tyler Florence, host of Food 911 and How to Boil Water, is the beginner's best friend. If anyone on the Food Network's roster might follow in Child's footsteps, it is the likable and efficient Florence. His series aren't limited to fundamentals, but teach viewers to make impressive meals. More than any of the cooks I watched, Florence most resembled Child, guiding his audience with patience and good humor.

The most compelling new cooking shows are actually less about cooking than scouting restaurants and food products. In $40 a Day, Ray travels to diverse locales, highlighting local cuisines that suit limited budgets. Ray's bubbly personality is toned down somewhat, as each episode takes the viewer through breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all within the $40 budget, including tips. While the show is ideal for travelers, it also prompts viewers to check out lesser known restaurants in their own neighborhoods in that the series focuses on smaller, out-of-the-way establishments.

For travelers with more money to spend, the Travel Channel's Great Chefs might be more appropriate. Each episode features two or three of the best chefs in a city, as they prepare signature dishes. The Food Network featured several series similar to this one. While this type of show may serve as a good resource for those seeking to impress dates, relatives, or clients, they function primarily as a resource for culinary professionals wanting to stay abreast of the latest trends.

Iron Chef features its chefs competing against guest chefs, each given one hour to prepare a meal organized around one key ingredient, such as lobster or kelp. Viewers have little hope of duplicating these dishes, as the chefs work at lightning speed. Commentators act as though they are calling a championship boxing match while the chefs fly through their routines. Iron Chef makes cooking into a game show, with flashing lights and a hammy host. The only thing missing are Barker's Beauties.

Emeril Live is also inclined to entertainment, showcasing the star more than food. Taking cues from the Tonight Show, he cooks before a live studio audience, and chats up his second banana, that is, the bandleader Leonard "Doc" Gibbs. Lagasse is personable and clearly loves what he is doing, but the audience is filled with the most rabid, over-the-top fans since the Deadheads. They roar at the lamest of jokes, and those few who actually taste what Lagasse prepares act as if Zeus himself had come down from Olympus to hand-feed them. I was frankly stumped by their reactions; when Lagasse announced he was adding garlic to a dish, the audience rose to its feet, cheering wildly.

Regardless of their enthusiasm, Lagasse is no Julia Child. The same can be said of all of the chefs I watched for those two weeks. Viewers could easily duplicate the steps Child described, and didn't need culinary training to make sense of her directions. Warm and winning, she addressed and respected her audience, homemakers trying to prepare tasty meals for their families. When she screwed up, she insisted viewers see the mistake. Home cooks are more likely to make errors than trained chefs, she reasoned, and should be equipped to deal with them.

True masters in any discipline come along rarely. But I was disappointed at the lack of current programming designed to teach people how to prepare food. I didn't become a better cook by watching for two weeks, but that's because good cooking demands dedication. Those who lack the time or initiative to improve their cooking can turn to pre-prepared foods. Still, those who enjoy cooking per se would do well to investigate Ray and Florence's series, and cooking groupies have Emeril Live. As for me, I'm afraid it's back to McDonald's. But that's okay: one of Julia Child's favorite foods was McDonald's French Fries.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

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