Julia Child Never Apologized

From EIC Laura Kosann.

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite culinary legends – Julia Child – who really was responsible for making cooking an art and experience in America, not just an afterthought. Recently, I read My Life In France, Child’s book about her life in Paris with Paul Child and her journey from being a person who simply liked to eat to being a world-renowned chef and cookbook author that changed the face of food in the U.S. for the better.

First and foremost (and to the annoyance of my family) Julia inspired me to be a self-proclaimed French person. I saw the movie Julie and Julia before spending a semester in (my now favorite city) Paris, and when I got back I proclaimed that I was French at heart simply because I believed it to be so. As Julia once said, “Just speak very loudly and quickly, and state your position with utter conviction, as the French do.” So I spoke loudly and with conviction when I said I was French at heart (or in a past life), which simply made it true.

Here at The New Potato we’re always trying to incorporate food into every element of lifestyle. It’s why we attempt to make the question ‘What’s the new potato?’ as recognizable as ‘What is the new black?’ Child was the epitome of this attitude. While many might say every woman should have the perfect camel coat, or a great red lipstick, Child proclaimed, “Every woman should have a blowtorch.”

Food and eating was a constant in every aspect of her life, and she took the intimidation and exclusivity out of it – much how we like to call ourselves the anti-foodie-foodies. If you messed up in the kitchen, as Child would sometimes do –  like the video below where she messes up flipping a potato pancake – it wasn’t a big deal. Instead, it was a ‘shit happens’ moment (pardon my French).

One of Child’s cardinal rules was “No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize.” I was particularly obsessed with this part of the book, where Child made an eggs florentine dish for a friend that was a complete and utter failure, yet refused to acknowledge its shortcomings:

“I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one’s hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as “Oh, I don’t know how to cook…,” or “Poor little me…,” or “This may taste awful…,” it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, “Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal!” Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed — eh bien, tant pis! Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile — and learn from her mistakes.”

I often ask interviewees what they see as the biggest hostess faux pas, and not once has apologizing for bad food been an answer. It’s possibly my favorite characteristic of Julia; she never apologized and encouraged all of us to have courage in the kitchen. And, if we failed, to try, try again. I can’t help but carry this attitude into my everyday life, because as Julia said (before she messed up flipping that potato pancake), “When you flip anything, you just have to have the courage of your convictions.”

So when you go off to work today, channel a little Julia and treat it like you’re flipping a potato pancake. If it breaks apart, pick the pieces up off the counter, slap them back into the pan and say something like “Eh bien, tant pis!” Or – if you’re not desperately trying to be French like I am – just say “shit happens” and move on. No one but you will know the difference.

*This post originally ran on August 14, 2015.