In Julia Child's Career, One Recipe Stands Above The Rest

With her charm and whimsy backed by incredible skill, Julia Child could captivate anyone with even the slightest interest in food. Yet the renowned chef, author, and TV personality didn't dip her toe into the professional culinary world until her late 30s, says Biography. This delayed start, combined with her raw talent seemingly only motivated her, and Child eventually became an expert in French cuisine, even wowing professionals who'd studied the region's gastronomy for decades.

According to Biography, after moving to Paris in 1948 with her civil servant husband Paul, Child began studying at the reputable Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, where she instantly fell head over heels for French cooking. She was determined to conquer the cuisine she had grown to love. 

While Child was a chef in training, her devotion didn't go unnoticed, and she joined forces with two other talented Cordon Bleu students. Per Biography, they opened their own cooking school together and set about putting together the cookbook that launched Child's fame, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." The first-of-its-kind work, which hit shelves in 1961, presented a plethora of famous French recipes directed towards an American audience. While there are numerous dishes that are still lovingly recreated, there's one section of Child's best-selling cookbook that's one of the most cherished.

Julia Child introduced coq au vin to America

While Julia Child may not have invented it herself, she certainly mastered the timeless poultry presentation of coq au vin. It quickly became one of Child's specialties, particularly when she moved her enthusiasm for cooking to the small screen on her WGBH cooking show "The French Chef." Addressing the camera, Child introduced the recipe as, "Coq au vin, one of the most delicious chicken dishes you ever put in your mouth" (via WGBH). 

Between Child's love for this comforting meal and the endless chefs who have reimagined the legendary braised chicken dish, there's no question it deserves every ounce of praise. As PBS shared when honoring Child on what would have been her 100th birthday, coq au vin was "near and dear to her heart." Faith Durand of The Kitchn reveals that she was hesitant to even attempt the famed recipe, which has long served as a quasi-initiation into Child's unparalleled French culinary repertoire.

The original coq au vin recipe, which was first recorded in 1913, according to Taste Atlas, didn't differ too much from Child's version, save for some small tweaks and the main ingredient. As the dish's name suggests, coq au vin is traditionally made with rooster, though Child opted for chicken in her recipe. To her credit, the famed chef managed to take an intricate French dish and morph it into something more feasible for novice chefs in the U.S., all without sacrificing any of the flavors.

Chefs adapt and modernize the traditional dish

Just as Julia Child slightly amended her coq au vin by subbing chicken for rooster, chefs have continued recreating the iconic dish with their own added flair for years. If the 2009 film adaptation of Julie Powell's memoir "Julie & Julia" (via QC Times) taught us anything, it's that as in-depth as some of Child's recipes can be, they hold up even decades later. The story follows Powell's antics around the kitchen as she commits to preparing every single recipe in Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" within a year; certainly not an easy feat. While Powell is adamant about sticking to Child's original recipes, others are eager to explore new components in this classic French entrée. 

Florence Fabricant of NYT Cooking swaps red wine for white when putting this dish together, creating a divine, creamy stew. She also adds the unique flavor of black truffle butter to elevate her coq au vin blanc with some complexity. Some chefs ditch the recipes' vin altogether and reach for a beer instead, like Brooklyn Brew Shop. Inspired by classic French fare, they made coq à la bière using their Chocolate Maple Porter as the marinade. According to NYT Cooking, even herbivores don't have to be left out. This spin on coq au vin uses white beans in place of chicken to create a vegetarian-friendly dish. All of the other fixings remain, giving each bite a jolt of flavor.

Child didn't earn her reputation for her coq au vin alone

As cherished as it is, coq au vin isn't the only noteworthy dish that Child perfected. Trying to pick a favorite recipe of Julia Child's is a never ending game, but many have become so intertwined with her cooking career that they've evolved into signature meals of hers. In the early days of "The French Chef," Child prepared her beef bourguignon, says Insider, and it became an instant classic. Child not only introduced this robust beef stew to America but simplified it by using cubed beef rather than a large piece that could overwhelm starter chefs. She also noted some life-changing tips in the "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" recipe, such as patting the beef dry and searing it (via Côte).

In the peak of 1960s diet culture, Child resisted the fads. One of her favorite ingredients was butter and she shamelessly embraced it. The chef famously said, "With enough butter, anything is good," after all (via Taste of Home). And she celebrated that by making butter and onions the unsuspecting stars of her french onion soup. Her time consuming albeit rather simple recipe didn't deter cooks, in fact it encouraged them and became one of her trademark dishes. It's well worth the wait and famous chefs agree, like the crew of Deuxave, who serve a nine-hour preparation of the soup, says WGBH.

Julia left a mark on the world and enthusiasm for gastronomy in the kitchen

Not only did Julia Child inspire food lovers near and far, but the culinary world also wouldn't be half of what it is today without her. She opened up the cookery doors for beginners while simultaneously influencing experts with her fearless approach to cooking. Her years in France only deepened her love for the cuisine and she wanted nothing more than to bring that love back to her home country. By introducing Americans to French food, the title of home chef gained a whole new meaning.

Child's show "The French Chef" stood out for many reasons, one being transparency. The Boston Globe reveals that the show was hardly edited and often filmed in one take, which means Child's charisma — and her blunders — were on full display, and America adored it. She gave the public an important message: "No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize" (via the Boston Globe). We've seen her lose half her pancake to the stove (via YouTube) and surrender kitchen tools to the trash (via YouTube), but after a quick chuckle, she carries on. Mistakes happen, and rather than pretending they don't as many other cooking shows do, Child showed viewers how to rectify the situation and save dinner.