WOUB-HD to Spotlight Flight of Groundbreaking Chefs< < Back to
Over the course of a summer abroad in Paris in the mid- ‘60s, social activist and chef Alice Waters was forever changed by the delicate simplicity of good bread, jam, and wine. Some 20 years previous, iconic celebrity chef Julia Child experienced a sensual awakening after a meal of oysters, Sole meunière, and, of course, fine wine in the beating heart of Paris.
Both chefs altered the way Americans experience and perceive food; Waters declaring that eating is a political action, and Child demonstrating that ultra-complicated French cuisine can be prepared by anybody.
This month WOUB-HD is treating viewers to a scrumptious flight of programming spotlighting the iconic chefs who impacted the American vocabulary and experience of food. “American Masters: Julia Child” is slated for broadcast on May 19 at 10 p.m., and “American Masters: Alice Waters” is set to broadcast May 26 at 10 p.m. The accompanying programming includes a May 19, 9 p.m. showing of “American Masters: James Beard,” and May 26, 9 p.m. broadcast of “American Masters: Jacques Pépin.”
Theresa Moran, Ph.D. and director of the Food Studies Theme within Ohio University’s College of Arts and Sciences, describes eating as “the ultimate interdisciplinary activity.”
“Food brings us together in every possible way,” she says in an interview on a balmy afternoon in late April, amidst the palpable exodus of students from the campus at the close of spring semester. “It is capable of bringing together every possible academic discipline.”
She speaks quickly, her words peppered with witty remarks; her office smells pleasantly of frankincense and myrrh.
Moran said she’s long been intellectually interested in food – hailing from a food centric family in San Diego, CA.
“Food is the aspect of the Athens community that really helped me keep my sanity when I moved here,” she said. “I always say that if I hadn’t gone to the Farmer’s Market on the first Saturday here, I would have been on the plane back to California on Sunday.”
The Food Studies Theme is designed to entice students to explore the societal, monetary, cultural, psychological, and philosophical aspects of food and its consumption.
“We want to give people lots of entryways into the experiencing food in a different way. The bottom line of our endeavor is to emphasize that everything on your plate has tremendous consequences,” said Moran. “We have become disassociated with food in general – partially because it’s ubiquitous – but we want everyone to start thinking about the environmental, political, artistic, and social implications of the food they are consuming.”
Moran said Alice Waters’ long-lasting effect on the way in which we consume has deep ties to the slow food movement, which was started by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986, partially as a backlash against the construction of a McDonalds in the center of Rome.
Moran lived in Rome for a decade and was there the day the Piazza de Spagna McDonalds opened.
“I remember going in there and watching all the Americans and seeing that you could buy wine and beer with your Big Mac,” she said. “But it was really the type of consumption that McDonalds represented that was alien to the Italian culture that Petrini wanted to protest.”
In Italy, there is a strong cultural concept of “cucina povera,” which translates literally into “the cuisine of poverty,” meaning that even those with the fewest resources have the best resources they can possibly get, and they prepare them in the freshest possible way they can.
“They eat what they have and they enjoy it; they don’t eat overly much and they don’t throw out a lot of it,” said Moran. “The meal is considered the vehicle through which culture is transmitted.”
Born in the bountiful Berkley, CA, Waters shaped her own world-renowned Chez Panisse restaurant based on the idea that she could craft delicious, artisan foods from hyper local sources from the abundant agriculture in the area. She opened the restaurant in 1971, and it remains open today, being named again and again as one of the best restaurants in the country.
“Chez Panisse is a very expensive restaurant, and inaccessible to most people for that reason. Alice Waters is now associated with haute-gastronomy, but that wasn’t her original vision at all,” said Moran. “She created the restaurant as a way to showcase the bounty of California and a way to demonstrate how sustainable farming methods can be truly utilized. She didn’t intend to make it a place where only fancy pants rich people could eat.”
Twenty years ago, Waters started the Edible Schoolyard Project, which facilitates the creation of working gardens in elementary schools. The program promotes ecoliteracy and a fundamental understanding of nutrition, as well as providing a wealth of ways for educators to utilize the gardens for a variety of academic purposes.
“You can use a garden to teach students about science, math, literature – you can have them look at the soil and write a haiku about it,” said Moran. “It’s all about using the garden as a lynchpin to enriching the curriculum for school children.”
“Chez Panisse is a very expensive restaurant, and inaccessible to most people for that reason. Alice Waters is now associated with haute-gastronomy, but that wasn’t her original vision at all. She created the restaurant as a way to showcase the bounty of California and a way to demonstrate how sustainable farming methods can be truly utilized. She didn’t intend to make it a place where only fancy pants rich people could eat.” – Theresa Moran, Ph.D.
Moran said Waters is responsible for preaching that food is an incredible mechanism for social change. Waters is the recipient of a 2014 medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities for her creation of a bond between “the ethical and the edible.”
Child’s contribution to the American conception of food is not so much ethical as it is practical.
Born to a privileged family in Pasadena, CA, Child was schooled at Smith University before she started her career with the Office of Strategic Services, as a way to contribute to the war effort. After she married, it took time for Child to become an accomplished chef. She attended Le Cordon Bleu and trained with several chefs, eventually mastering the many techniques of French cooking.
After becoming tight friends with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, Child took on finishing a task that Beck and Bertholle had been chipping away at for a while: crafting a French cookbook made for Americans. The result was the 1961 printing of the 726-page, two volume Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Alfred A. Knopf.
“Mastering all the techniques of French food is not simple. It is a complicated, hierarchical structure of process and ingredient and order,” said Moran. “But Julia Child was not the type to take on any project lightly, and she had been educated at Smith and had extensive administrative education from her career – so she was one smart cookie. She really revolutionized the format of the cookbook, before her, not many recipes had been standardized at all. But she laid out the book in such a way that if you followed everything that she told you to do, you literally could not fail.”
Mastering the Art of French Cooking included detailed illustrations and was written in such a way that gave readers a taste of Child’s odd and charming personality.
Later on, Child would go on to have an extensive media career, hosting the ever popular The French Chef. The show would air unedited, showcasing that even an accomplished chef like Child did, truly, make mistakes.
“When you read Mastering the Art of French Cooking, it can be intimidating – but when you watch Julia Child on television, there is no way you can be intimidated,” said Moran. Child did have a peculiar physicality, being a woman 6’2” tall. She also had a distinctive way of pronouncing words, her accent adorned with a slight uptick in frequency at times and an almost-whistle. “When you watch her, she really doesn’t allow you to think that this is something that you couldn’t do. Her greatest gift to American eating habits is the lesson that going to the golden arches isn’t the only easy thing you can do to get a meal – you can put a little butter in a pan and pretty soon you’ll have an omelet that will make you swoon.”