How Julia Child Accidentally Created The Modern Cooking Show

In the mid-1940s, more than two decades after television was invented, people still thought it would be a passing fad, per Google Arts & Culture. Little did the doubters know, the little "plywood box" would become a complete hit and integral part of American life. Soon, the invention enabled popular shows like Julia Child's "The French Chef," which became a national favorite in the 1960s and '70s.

Considering the success of her series, as well as other early television cooking shows, it's no surprise that today, nearly every cable package and streaming service includes culinary programming. Today's cooking show competition is stiff, as chefs and TV personalities such as Gordon Ramsay and Guy Fieri have carved out their own corners of the culinary world, ever-growing in popularity. However, none of this would have been possible without Julia Child.

When the expert on French cuisine appeared on WGBH, a Boston TV station, for a book review segment titled "I've Been Reading" in 1961, her only intention was to market her cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Little did she know, she would change food media forever.

A happy accident

In CNN's Julia Child documentary, "Julia," Russell Morash, the producer of Child's "The French Chef" cooking series, recalls that Child insisted on promoting her cookbook through a televised cooking demonstration. Instead of having a sit-down conversation and calling it a day, she "decided to make an omelet, to lighten things up." WGBH received such a positive response, by way of audience members writing and calling the station, that the network offered her the opportunity to host her own cooking show. 

While TV cooking demos are a dime a dozen these days, Child was a pioneer of the art, as it had never been done before. "I thought to myself: Who is this madwoman cooking an omelet on a book-review program?" Morash said, reports The New York Times, recalling how she brought her equipment from home. He then proposed that she shoot a three-episode pilot of "The French Chef" in 1962, per Showbiz Cheat Sheet. The series then ran successfully for a decade.

As the CNN documentary points out, this is how one woman accidentally invented and popularized the modern American cooking show. Without Julia Child's French omelet demonstration, we may never have had the countless culinary series we know today. To learn more about Child's influence on the culinary world, you can watch "Julia" on CNN, as well as HBO's new Julia Child series starring Sarah Lancashire.