8 Cooking Lessons We Learned from Julia Child

Anyone can be a better cook with these down-to-earth tips from beloved home chef Julia Child.

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Julia Child holds tomatoes in the kitchen at her home
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She’s known, quite simply, as the first female American chef to cook in France, for writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking for everyday home cooks across the country, and for her long-running TV show, The French Chef. Speaking of French cooking…

But that’s not the only reason we crush on Julia Child. Until her death in 2004 at the age of 92, she exhibited an accessibility, fearlessness and sense of humor that made you feel like you were right there beside her. At 6’2″, she loomed over most people, but you didn’t get the feeling she felt loftier than others. Perhaps the best portrayal of her was when Meryl Streep dove into the role of Child in the 2009 dramedy Julie & Julia, based on Julie Powell’s memoir Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.

Take your own crash course in French cooking with these eight lessons we learned from Julia Child.

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happy sisters children girls bake cookies, knead dough, play with flour and laugh in the kitchen
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It’s OK to Laugh at Yourself

Making mistakes did not deter Julia Child—including ones she made when she was live on The French Chef. Practice saying “oops,” not “sorry,” even if you’re alone in the kitchen, and laugh often. Your confidence will soon blossom. As any cook knows, mistakes are par for the course. How else are you going to perfect boeuf bourguignon? (Still pondering your ability to master this recipe? Here’s our tweak, with a few shortcuts.)

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Greengrocer selling organic fresh agricultural product at farmer market
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Shop at the Farmers Market

Back in the 1960s, when Child was getting started in her career, Americans were not, with few exceptions, scooping up locally grown ingredients. But Child was. Today it’s not hard to shop local and know that what’s in your bag or basket is truly fresh. Child advised going to the market sans list and letting the mood inspire you.

Stockpile these farmers market finds.

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chef at work
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Cook with Wine—and Add It to Your Recipes, Too

As long as you don’t go overboard on wine while measuring, dicing or sauteing in the kitchen, it’s all good. Why shouldn’t the cook indulge a little? And as long as you’ve got the bottle open, consider adding red wine to beef, white wine to chicken—or whatever suits your fancy. Need some primers in how to cook with wine? Here’s a Red Wine Cranberry Sauce recipe and a surprisingly simple chicken recipe that uses white.

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happy friends and chef cook cooking in kitchen
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Sign up for Cooking Classes

Cookbooks are great and so are online recipes, but the best way to expand your culinary prowess is to learn from an expert. Child took a huge risk enrolling at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris in 1950, and was among the first American women to do so. You probably can’t easily enroll at a Le Cordon Bleu location, so consider something closer to home. Community centers and community colleges—as well as one-day classes at retailers like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table—help you up your game, whether it’s braising, baking or sauces.

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Multi Generation Indian Family Cooking Meal At Home
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Learn Another Culture’s Cooking Techniques

Maybe France isn’t your culinary utopia. That’s OK, because there’s also Mayan cooking in Central America, pasta making in Italy, curry concocting in India and so many more. Consider adding a cooking class to your next global jaunt. The best way to master ethnic cooking is from the natives.

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Block of butter sliced on cutting board against wooden background
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Use Lots of Butter

With apologies to vegans, anyone scrimping on butter is truly missing out. In the near-final scene in Julie & Julia, Amy Adams’ character (playing food blogger Julie Powell) leaves a block of butter at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History exhibit in Washington D.C., which featured Child’s original kitchen from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In Child’s own words? “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” ‘Nuff said.

Can you guess which butter brand won our blind taste test?

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Artichoke tomato salad
Taste of Home

Forget Dieting

Child was not a cook who cared about her figure—but she was also not overweight. She focused instead on sourcing the best, highest-quality ingredients. Child loved vegetables, used whole foods, and always cooked from scratch. And although she was a fan of the occasional splurge, her meals were usually healthful.

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Happy beautiful great grandmother and her adorable granddaughter, curly toddler girl in colorful dress, baking an apple pie together standing next to white oven in sunny modern kitchen with big window

Find Friends or a Partner Who Also Appreciate Food

The first person to line up for a taste test of Child’s cuisine was her husband, Paul. In fact, he was the one who reportedly got her hooked on exploring food, having grown up in a foodie family (Child’s family, on the other hand, employed a cook who handled all kitchen tasks). You know that old saying, “You are who you hang around with”? Associate with other foodies and your passion for all things culinary will only grow.

Inspired even more now to be like Julia? Remember that every good chef needs a community, and that it takes lots of practice—along with remembering what you’re good at, and perhaps building on that. But if you’ve already got enthusiasm for food plus a palate that’s hungry for more flavors, you’re halfway there.

Kristine Hansen
A former editor of a regional home and garden magazine, where she edited the entertaining section, Kristine writes for national travel, design and food outlets about culinary trends. Her book on Wisconsin cheese serves as a love letter to her adopted state of Wisconsin and she loves to travel in search of regional cultural foods.