A Childhood Memory and a Dream Realized

(Chef Deb) At work in the Teaching Kitchen

Do you remember the first thing you ever cooked? Remember who helped you? Maybe it was your mom or grandmother for a special meal. Maybe it was your dad making pancakes on a Saturday morning.

Do you remember how you felt? You may have been completely hooked, or were totally convinced cooking was not your thing. Maybe you imagined you were Julia Child pulling off a perfect soufflé or maybe every time you stepped up to a stove you felt like Lucille Ball completely losing control in the chocolate factory?

My first cooking experience came from PBS, Julia Child and a chicken. I was about six years old and that day changed my life. So, let me preface this: my mom was a single mom and I walked one block home from school, locked the door and called her each day. My mom was not a cook; most of what we ate came from a can. It was also a time when moms would leave a chicken to defrost in the sink ALL day (all day!) and then cook it when they got home after work.

As a kid, I was a wee bit precocious, or as my mom used to say, “a handful.” All I remember about that day was turning on the TV to see Julia Child demonstrating how to cook a whole chicken, and how pleasantly surprised I was to see a whole chicken right there in my sink!

Me and my mom, around the time I started learning to cook.

I don’t recall what pan I used, or if I even removed the gizzards from the cavity of the chicken. I DO recall meeting my mom at the door, and telling her I had made supper. There may have been a small measure of panic on her face, and I am certain I did not clean up at all. What I do remember vividly is how much my mom raved about the chicken. I’m certain it was overcooked, and most likely lacked seasoning, but I was hooked on cooking then and there.

I’ve often wondered how many great cooks sat in front of their black-and-white TVs, watched that same PBS episode and found their calling. While my friends pretended to be princesses or a genies like on I Dream of Jeanie, I knew I wanted to be a chef.

While watching those episodes of Julia Child, she became my teacher, my inspiration and a childhood friend. It would be 34 years before I could actually attend culinary school and have the opportunity to complete my externship in the South of France. But I never forgot the woman with the strange voice, who’s enthusiasm for French food opened the door to my imagination.

After graduating culinary school, I purchased the entire Julia Child PBS series. It was a sentimental purchase. I have to be honest, the only episode I’ve watched is the one on roasted chicken. It’s extremely personal, like finding a recipe written by your grandmother and being transported back in time. When I see her cooking show now, I understand how groundbreaking her program was. She was also not your typical chef; she was older when she began her training, a woman, and she did not make a living working in restaurants, yet she inspired many.

Like Julia Child, I had a non-typical journey on my way to realizing my dream of becoming a chef. I’m so grateful to now have a place to teach and cook with others, to find my own voice in the community and connect with others through food. I earnestly want to share, show and demonstrate all the techniques I’ve learned over the years. Food is a powerful medium, cooking is not only a life skill, but it also allows us to experience places and cultures we may never actually get to see. We can thank Julia Child for this.

Join us in the Teaching Kitchen, April 21 for Culinary Classics: A Tribute to Julia Child

I’ve collected over 1,000 cookbooks, but I have a special place for Julia’s.