When Every Housewife Wanted To Be A French Chef

By Kanyi M

Julia Child’s first televised show was an on-air disaster, but her next two cooking shows were hugely successful. Why the difference? The answer is that before 1968, Americans had no idea that they could cook. They relied on convenience foods and fast food for their sustenance. But suddenly, America’s food landscape changed dramatically when more people started to cook at home, and more varieties of ingredients became available in supermarkets all over the country.

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But what made Americans suddenly want to be French chefs? Julia Child offered a straightforward explanation when she said that when the war ended, Americans needed to replace what they had lost in terms of food because eating American-style was no longer fashionable. America’s best chefs realized that they would have to learn how to cook if they wanted to make it in the New York City restaurant industry. So they went back to cooking schools and pursued French cuisine or Japanese cuisine.

What really made it different in the late ’50s? Julia Child’s first television program dramatically boosted the number of Americans who wanted to cook. But by the start of 1960, Julia Child had become an expert in pretty much every cuisine out there. Why? She went back to her culinary school friends and asked them if any one of them knew how to make meringue or make frozen soufflés before 1960.

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But by 1968, frozen foods had gone out of fashion, and American homemakers were ready for culinary exploration again. They had been exposed to a variety of foods from other cultures. And they were willing to start cooking again, which gave Child’s second show a huge boost.
Julia Child was right when she said that Americans learned how to cook again once France stopped being the purveyor of all things fashionable. But, there was another key factor in changing America’s food landscape, which is very interesting because it didn’t involve the government.