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Julia Child: New Friends, New Energy

'The French Chef' invites some of America's best cooks into her kitchen -- and we get to eavesdrop

By Jennifer G. WolcottStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 4, 1995



CAMBRIDGE, MASS.

SHE'S at it again. Mastering the art of French cooking was only the beginning for Julia Child. The woman who changed the way we eat and encouraged us to cook with confidence won't be putting her feet up anytime soon.

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With vigor surpassing that of a marathon runner, Julia, as she is universally known, is doing all she can to celebrate the exciting flavors and faces of contemporary food in America.

At the stage in life when many people reflect on past accomplishments, Julia has flung open the window on this country's cooking with yet another television series.

''In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs,'' co-produced by Maryland Public Television and A La Carte Communications, follows a familiar pattern. Like her ''French Chef'' series, which eventually took her into the world spotlight after its debut on public-television station WGBH in 1963, to a recent series ''Cooking with Master Chefs,'' the latest is also a ''how to'' for the home cook.

But this time, Julia has invited 26 of America's best chefs right into her own kitchen. Some of them grew up watching her: They learned how to crack an egg with one hand even before they'd learned to twirl spaghetti.

The 26-part series, now airing, opens with Julia looking splendid in pink and green. She cheerfully greets viewers from the front steps of her roomy Victorian home in Cambridge, Mass.

Once inside, the chefs take the lead, and Julia plays a supporting role. She watches closely, asks questions, and sometimes dips in for a taste.

''You've done this often!'' she winces as Jasper White dispatches a live lobster for his Pan-Fried Lobster Dish, one of her favorite entrees from his restaurant in Boston.

Tips from Toques

Like any dedicated teacher, Julia firmly believes that ''all good cooks learn something new everyday.''

Sitting at her kitchen table and wearing a bold heart-and-spade patterned blouse, casual trousers, and running shoes, Julia tells a reporter some of what she learned from her guest chefs.

She credits Mark Militello with introducing her to fresh tamarind. Christopher Gross has a clever way of stripping kernels off the cob, she says. And Jasper White tosses a whole fish instead of pieces into chowder.

Julia relished the experience of opening up her home to other cooks for the taping last summer. ''It was not only a lot of fun,'' she says, ''but so interesting. The pride these chefs take in their work was wonderful to see.''

The chefs clearly liked being there, too. Daniel Boulud, owner and executive chef of Daniel, an award-winning restaurant in New York, calls it the ''best experience I've ever had in America, the ultimate gift as a chef.''

Mr. Boulud was especially impressed with Julia's vitality: ''I'd arrive at 6 in the morning, barely awake, and Julia would already be in her study room working on her computer,'' he recalls.

''Julia's positive spirit and passion for food set the tone,'' says Jody Adams, chef at Rialto in Cambridge. And master baker Jim Dodge speaks of Julia's kitchen as one ''with heart.''

Even those who might be critical of other chefs have nothing but praise for Julia.