Master chefs serve up electronic cookbooks

Master chefs Julia Child and Craig Claiborne are now available in your kitchen whenever you need them, via home videos. The revolution in America's eating habits found its way to television many years ago with cooking shows featuring kitchen charismatics like Julia Child, ``The Galloping Gourmet,'' and Jacques Pepin. But the day of the half-hour TV cooking show seems to be over. Julia Child is fortunate to get three minutes to do her thing on ``Good Morning America,'' and more and more oven mavens are deserting the ranks of weekly broadcasting for videocassettes. According to home video authorities, the cooking casse tte market has been largely ignored, except for an occasional foray into the field such as last year's Chinese cooking video, ``Wok Before You Run.'' But now there seems to be a mad scurry to sign up top cooking names for what is expected to be a thriving market.

In the past few weeks, two of America's most celebrated menu-ists have gone totally electronic with home videotapes, just come to market: ``Craig Claiborne's New York Times Video Cookbook'' (Warner Home Video, $29.98, available in VHS and Beta formats) and Julia Child's ``The Way to Cook'' (Alfred A. Knopf, six volumes at $29.95 each, available in VHS and Beta).

Craig's single cassette is not nearly as professional or as complete as Julia's six-part basic series, probably the most complete cooking course available on videocassettes. Neither of the electronic chefs worries about time frames; it's up to you to push the stop button on your VCR and wait until your delicacy at the oven catches up to theirs.

Craig Claiborne's two-hour cassette features Mr. Claiborne himself preparing about 20 of his favorite dishes that lend themselves to video presentation. There's a cheese souffl'e with curried shrimp, stuffed steak, buffalo wings, and guacamole. And don't forget the desserts -- pecan pie, hazelnut cheesecake and chocolate mousse cake. I only wish he had left out a most unpleasant-appearing stuffed-steamed chicken leg.

His video has a homey feel, perhaps because it was shot in his East Hampton house in New York. ``When I agreed to do the home video, I stipulated that I would only do it at my own pace in my own kitchen,'' he expained in a recent chat. ``I did not have a staff -- I engaged two friends for chopping, slicing, dicing. Of course, the producers brought a stylist for the table settings.''

Julia Child's video is all business, studio-made, and no fooling around. Her series features six one-hour cassettes, each concentrating on one aspect of cooking: poultry; soups, salads, and bread; meat; fish and eggs; vegetables; first courses and desserts. As simply as possible, with clear and colorful illustrative material, beginning cooks especially can learn just about everything they need to know in each of the categories.

I chatted with Julia the other day at a party thrown for her by her publisher, held appropriately at the trendy New York video disco Private Eyes, where many images of this cook in the kitchen surrounded us on screens as we talked.

``I guess they figure that if a big clunk like me can cook, anybody can,'' the nearly six-foot-tall Julia said with a giggle.

Although many viewers claim that they saw her flip and drop a chicken on camera, she insists it is all in their imagination. ``The truth is, it was only a potato pancake.''

Next to having a one-on-one private lesson, Julia feels that ``home video is the best way to learn to cook. You can get right down on the food. . . . You know,'' she confides, ``people have the tendency to forget that I am a teacher, not an entertainer. I think the half-hour cooking show on prime-time television is through.''

On the other hand, Craig Claiborne refuses to predict the demise of the TV cooking show, or the cookbook. The author of many cookbooks himself, he has been food editor of the New York Times since 1957 but confides that he is happy to escape the chore of reviewing restaurants. ``Once you have to identify the ingredients of a sauce,'' he says, ``you lose the ability to enjoy the flavor. He was also a bit unnerved by the power that New York Times restaurant reviews have to make or break a new restaurant.

He is more excited about his new book, ``Craig Claiborne's Memorable Meals'' (Dutton), in which he not only describes meals he has served but the guests who enjoyed them.

Can he do things on the home video that he cannot do in a book?

``Yes. If you write a recipe, you try to be as concise as possible. In video you try to be as dramatic as possible . . . concise but also as elaborate as you can be, adding all sorts of variations to make it interesting.''

Just in case you aren't convinced that home videos are the way to go in the kitchen of the future, you may be interested to know that both the Child and Claiborne videos include ``old fashioned'' printed recipes in the package. -- 30 --

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.