Julia Child's Birthday: Look Inside America's Favorite Chef's Kitchen

America's favorite chef Julia Child would have been 101-years-old today. Since “The French Chef” first appeared on American television in 1963, Child became the most loved chef in America.

Unlike most of our typical glamorous television chefs today, Julia was dowdy by TV standards. But what made her extra endearing to audiences was her wit, her distinctive voice, contagious giggle and her willingness to look foolish at times.

Julia was also famous for her mistakes. She once tried to flip a potato pancake and failed, then simply picked it up, tossed it back into the pan and said, “Oops! I didn’t have the courage to do it the way I should have. But you can always pick it up, and if you’re alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?”  A lot of wisdom in that quote I'd say.

Child believed  even home cooks could make sophisticated French fare if they followed a clear recipe. For ten years her kitchen served as the setting for "The French Chef", which was broadcast on 96 public television stations.

When she moved back to her home state of California in 2001, she donated the kitchen from her Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to the Museum. This exhibition featured the actual kitchen, including the cabinets, appliances, cookbooks, kitchen table, and hundreds of utensils and gadgets. So when my husband and I were in D.C last week, I jumped at the chance of peeking into Julia's famous kitchen at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

This was my favorite exhibit of the trip and seeing this kitchen in real life was just amazing.

Julia's kitchen is simple and functional and she depended on some everyday gadgets and appliances to prepare her food.  You can see some of her favorites, including a stand mixer, food processor and blender. And among Julia's many personal touches — well-worn cookbooks, cat tchotchkes and a needlepoint of her signature, "Bon appetit!" — it's easy to overlook the steel pole on the ceiling where television lights were mounted. Child filmed three of her popular television series here.

There is also a gallery space next to the kitchen which showcases many of Julia's personal items. Among them her 1996 Emmy Award, her Legion d'Honneur medal (France's highest honor) and her diploma from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

This exhibition is a must-see for every Julia Child fan. I feel extremely lucky that I had the chance to see this incredible kitchen.

(Information provided by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

 Did you know?...
  1. The maple counter-tops were built two inches higher than in most kitchens to suit Julia's   six-foot, two-inch height.  
  2. Julia stored spices, tea, instant coffee, and syrups in this cabinet. 
  3. Two 25-pound turkeys can fit into this "Big Garland" oven. 
  4. Poles mounted on the ceiling held TV lights during the taping of cooking shows in the 1990s. 
  5. Julia used this conventional wall oven to cook during her last 3 TV shows. She used this oven for daily roasting and cooking, but she preferred her "Big Garland" gas oven.
  6. The Butcher Saw, for cutting frozen meat and bones. One of many professional meat cutting tools in Julia's kitchen.
  1. The blue and green color scheme was chosen by Paul Child (Julia's husband) in 1961.
  2.  No fancy curtains, just simple blinds opened to a view of Irving Street treetops.
  3.  Sixteen baking sheets were stored vertically in slots next to the dishwasher.
  4.  The Blue KitchenAid stand mixers, Julia Child once said " This machine is absolutely marvelous."
  5. Julia had two paintings in the kitchen, hung on the wall near the wall oven. Done by a friend, the paintings combined her love of cats, asparagus and artichokes, and were very visible to a television audience during her last three cooking shows. Many viewers wrote to request copies of the paintings. The Smithsonian's artichoke painting is a reproduction. Julia took the original with her to Santa Barbara.

Julia's great nephew said Julia liked to described herself as "a knife freak, frying pan freak, and gadget freak." Here is some of her pot collection
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Write comments
Eric Pepple
August 16, 2013 at 2:23 PM delete

That is just incredible, I will definitely have to check that out next time I'm in DC. If only I could have her copper pan collection *drool*

Happy Blogging!
Happy Valley Chow

August 18, 2013 at 2:23 AM delete

Seeing Child's actual kitchen had to be as exciting to you - somewhat of a pilgrimage to the shrine,so to speak! - as was my visit to Jack London's home which was preserved as it had been when he died...actually being involved with the history of a person you greatly admire in this way is, I think, about the best you can experience.

I took home from London's location the idea of recording in a ledger every book I read with a mini-two sentence review as Jack London had done - his small ledger was on display opened midway to two pages of observations about the books he'd read in 1910.

Just looking at your photos of Child's kitchen I thought you must have had similar feelings of inspiration about Cooking as I did about Writing when visiting the actual workplaces of our respective idols.

And I have to remind those who may read this that your Carmen's Kitchen Cookbook is available as a Kindle, iPod, and Nook book at very reasonable prices! End of my promotional effort!

Anne Regalado
September 1, 2013 at 6:29 AM delete

Lucky Carmen ! I've seen her kitchen via Julie and Julia :P Her pots and pans are certainly drool-worthy :D