Between Impression and Expression: Julia Child

The French are very sensitive to personal dynamics, and they believe that you must earn your rewards.  If a tourist enters a food stall thinking he’s going to be cheated, the salesman will sense this and obligingly cheat him.  But if a Frenchman senses that a visitor is delighted to be in his store, and takes a genuine interest in what is for sale, then he’ll just open up like a flower.  The French grocers insisted that I interacted with them personally; if I wasn’t willing to take the time to get to know them and their wares, them I would not go home with the freshest legumes or cuts of meat in my basket.  They certainly made me work for my supper — but oh, what suppers!

In spite of my good notices, I remained a long way from being a maître de cuisine.  This was made plain the day I invited my friend Winnie for lunch, and managed to serve her the most vile eggs Florentine one could imagine outside of England.  I suppose I had gotten a little too self-confident for my own good:  rather than measure out the flour, I had guessed at the proportions, and the result was a goopy sauce Mornay.  Unable to find spinach at the market, I’d bought chicory instead; it, too, was horrid.  We ate the lunch with painful politeness and avoided discussing its taste.  I made sure not to apologize for it.  This was a rule of mine.

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.

 

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