Julia Child’s television show, The French Chef, was extraordinarily popular during its broadcast from 1963 until 1973. Child became a cultural icon in the 1960s, and, in the years since, she and her show have remained enduring influences on American cooking, American television, and American culture. Dana Polan, professor of Cinema Studies at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, examines the development of the show, its day-to-day production, and its critical and fan reception in the new book Julia Child’s The French Chef (Duke University Press).
In this concise volume, Polan situates Julia Child and The French Chef in their historical and cultural moment, while never losing sight of Child’s unique personality and captivating on-air presence. He considers what made Child’s program such a success. It was not the first televised cooking show, but it did define and popularize the genre. Polan argues that The French Chef changed the conventions of television’s culinary culture by rendering personality indispensable. Child was energetic and enthusiastic, and her cooking lessons were never just about food preparation, although she was an effective and unpretentious instructor. They were also about social mobility, the discovery of foreign culture, and a personal enjoyment and fulfillment that promised to transcend domestic drudgery.
Polan is also the author of The Sopranos and Scenes of Instruction: The Beginnings of the U.S. Study of Film.