Chez Dining Room: Julia Child

Sunday August 24, 2014

"Life without you is like unsalted food." Paul Child

Sometimes the fanciest kitchen/dining room by a famous designer is not the most captivating. This is Julia Child’s Dining Room in Cambridge, Massachusettes. It seems appropriate since we just celebrated her birthday.

The chairs have the New England-style Shaker hand-woven rush seats; I still have the chairs like this my mother bought in the late 1950s. The largest painting on the facing wall, “Kunming Street Scene”, was painted by Paul Child. Julia and Paul preferred to entertain in the kitchen rather than the dining room.

Photograph from Architectural Digest Celebrity Homes

Julia with her husband, Paul, whipping cream in the kitchen of her Cambridge home, November, 1963 (photograph by Dick Fish)

Below are photos of Julia’s real home kitchen in Cambridge, which was delightfully recreated for the movie Julie and Julia. Paul called it her “alchemist’s aerie.” It would be taken apart and reconstructed in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., preserved frozen in time, where you can visit it today.

What are the elements of the kitchen. The plastic coated checked tablecloth on the table they bought in Oslo, the blonde wood chairs, the circular straw place mats, all remind me of my grandmother’s and my ex’s granny’s kitchens where I spent my youth and learned about cooking–so casual, comforting, well-used, and inviting.

The chairs are mix and match, the cupboards pale blue and the drawers pale green, so personal a color combination. The appliances look like they were acquired at various times, like the black fridge/stainless wall oven with lower bun warmer that began showing up in 1980s kitchens, rather than all at once and manufacturer-matched in a remodel. This is still a tricked out home kitchen, not a copy of a cookie- cutter professional kitchen that is so popular today in kitchens that don’t see a lot of cooking. There are plenty of pots and pans in easy access that would follow Julia to every kitchen she worked in–sort of a Julia Child special collected one by one from Dehillerin culinary shop in Paris while she was taking classes at the Cordon Bleu and cooking every day for Paul. On the pegboard near the stove is a wall with the shape of the pans outlined for easy return; something Julia commented on often how she loved this. There is another pegboard with outlines next to the oven with utensils. No rummaging in low cupboards or drawers while cooking; everything is at arm’s reach not to distract from the cooking preparation.

The counters (raised higher when they bought the house to accommodate Julia’s tall stature) and shelf over the stove are lined with canisters and jars with everyday used items. Every available space is filled by a cook who cooks a lot.

Dehillerin cooking supply shop in Paris/the gourmet cook's haunt

I love the potholder hanging on the side of the Garland six-burner gas range, just where we all like them so we can grab them without looking. There is tract lighting, probably installed for photography by Paul. There exists a lovely old photo of Julia and her Knopf editor Judith Jones sitting on the long side of the table in the Irving Street kitchen editing her deep pile of Mastering manuscript together. Ah, the days before computers when editing was done by hand.

Recipe: Julia’s Potato Leek Soup Adapted for the Slow Cooker

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

Oslo dining table and Garland gas range/Julia's last two PBS cooking shows were filmed in this kitchen

same day/different angle across from the stove

The Pastry Room off the kitchen/photograph from Architectural Digest Celebrity Homes

The other wall full of pots and pans, molds, and cast iron muffin tins hung on pegboard/dinner on the table for guests

These two following photos are of different views of the kitchen as recreated in the Smithsonian.

The sink and custom main work counters

Every real cook wants a stove like this, an old 6-burner Garland with side griddle, known as restaurant ranges. Note the 2 sizes of Brown Betty English teapots.

Your Comments

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  1. Ann 31/01/2012 at 3:09 am

    I watched Julia Child when I was a child. During this time we also had the galloping gourmet, and we exercised with Jack LaLane. My tv time in the late 50′s early 1960′s. It was fun. As I was a kid I started with Captain Kangaroo, and some lady with a magic mirror and told you how to dress for the day.
    In the afternoon after the stories, there was a man from Connecticut who sang and told great stories generally a fable.
    Today I still have the joy of watching Julia Child with her guest chefs. The rest are gone in some film land somewhere. Thank you to PBS for still having the cooking episodes on TV

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