Julia Child: What I Have Learned

Julia Child

Anyone who’s witnessed Julia Child on TV knows without a doubt that the woman was witty. And not just when it came to good-natured cracks about her ambling about in her kitchen. Julia Child had ample opinions and observations, bless her, about most things—and she wasn’t shy about sharing them. Today, on her birthday, we find ourselves more than a little nostalgic for Julia Child—both her inimitable way in the kitchen as well as her simple yet profound way with words. Rather than inundate you with yet more prose lamenting how we miss her so, we thought we’d simply share some of her most profound thoughts. Here, a glimpse at one of the interviews with Julia Child that we treasure the most, conducted with Esquire’s Mike Sager years ago. These lessons are certainly ones we’ll tape to our fridge, and think you may do so, too.—Renee Schettler Rossi

  • Fat gives things flavor.
  • People are uncertain because they don’t have the self-confidence to make decisions.
  • The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry soufflé. I did that at least twenty-eight times before I finally conquered it.
  • Playing golf with men can throw off your stroke.
  • I’m all for hunger among the well-to-do. For comfortable people, hunger is a very nice quality. For one thing, it means you’re healthy. And I love the anticipation.
  • Being tall is an advantage, especially in business. People will always remember you. And if you’re in a crowd, you’ll always have some clean air to breathe.
  • There is nothing worse than grilled vegetables.
  • Celebrity has its uses: I can always get a seat in any restaurant.
  • I was faced by my nieces and good friends and told I shouldn’t drive my car anymore. Actually, I find I’m not quite as alert as I used to be, and it would be awful to kill somebody. So now I don’t drive, and it is real hell, because you can’t rush down to the store and get a bunch of parsley if you have the whim, or do something like that. It’s just awful not driving, because you have to depend on other people. You get used to it, though. They have a bus here—I haven’t tried it yet, but I shall.
  • A cookbook is only as good as its poorest recipe.
  • I hate organized religion. I think you have to love thy neighbor as thyself. I think you have to pick your own God and be true to him. I always say “him” rather than “her.” Maybe it’s because of my generation, but I don’t like the idea of a female God. I see God as a benevolent male.
  • Tears mess up your makeup.
  • I’m awfully sorry for people who are taken in by all of today’s dietary mumbo jumbo. They are not getting any enjoyment out of their food.
  • Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health. You need to enjoy the good things in life, but you need not overindulge.
  • I went into a doctor’s office the other day and all the people—you know, the nurses and the receptionists and even the patients—were sort of short-tempered and not very nice. And it made me think, I just want to bop them over the head. It’s terribly important to keep a good temper.
  • I don’t eat between meals. I don’t snack. Well, I do eat those little fish crackers. They’re fattening, but irresistible.
  • If you’re in a good profession, it’s hard to get bored, because you’re never finished—there will always be work you haven’t yet done.
  • The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know they’re right if you love to be with them all the time.
  • The problem with the world right now is that we don’t have any politicians like Roosevelt or Churchill to give us meaning and depth. We don’t have anyone who’s speaking for the great and the true and the noble. What we need now is a heroic type, someone who could rally the people to higher deeds. I don’t know what’s to become of us.
  • You must have discipline to have fun.
  • Drama is very important in life: You have to come on with a bang. You never want to go out with a whimper. Everything can have drama if it’s done right. Even a pancake.
  • I don’t believe in heaven. I think when we die we just go back to the great ball of energy that makes up the universe.
  • Hell only exists on earth, when you’ve made mistakes and you’re paying for them.
  • I don’t think about whether people will remember me or not. I’ve been an okay person. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve taught people a thing or two. That’s what’s important. Sooner or later the public will forget you, the memory of you will fade. What’s important is the individuals you’ve influenced along the way.
  • Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?
Hungry for the recipes Julia Child liked to make? Try on these:


  1. I have a good Julia story to share. A Catholic priest friend of mine was doing some post graduate work at Harvard Divinity School around 1970 and was a huge Julia Child fan. Every day he would go for a walk in Cambridge neighborhoods and hoped he would be able to discern the location of the Child’s home and walk by it one day.

    He found out what the address was and so added this route to his daily walk. He kept telling himself that one day, perhaps, he would get up the nerve to go up and ring the doorbell and just say to the butler, or maid, or whoever answered the door, that he was a huge fan and thank you for everything–the general good wishes one conveys to a beloved celeb.

    Finally, one day he did just that. He rang the doorbell and waited for what seemed an eternity and was about to leave when the door opened and it was Julia herself standing there. He quickly added that not only was she standing there, but she was holding a bowl and whisk. He stammered and stuttered as she said, “yes? can I help you?” He was trying to give his “I adore you so much” spiel when she said: “I am in the middle of recipe testing and right in the thick of things, would you like to come in and join me in the kitchen so we can visit?” Would he????!!! He did indeed go in and chat all afternoon with her. He would run into her at the local markets as well, and they had several other chats in that Cambridge kitchen during his time there.

  2. Great collection of some of her best! I won’t forget about her. As a child, I used to rue the times when it was her on the tube instead of the scheduled Sesame Street. By 12 I was watching her with utter fascination and making crepes with her and trying to figure our how to convince my Mom that we needed to make a Buche de Noel with caramel strands all around it for Christmas. One my fave quotes from her “The Way To Cook” about her own Cambridge Cake: ” I’d rather have the tiniest sliver of this beauty than several helpings of diet Carrot Cake.” Vive Julia! Reine de la cuisine!!

  3. Hahaha…loved her attitude….and who hasn’t dropped stuff and just picked it up and carried on?? Dirt doesn’t seem to harm toddlers who routinely eat off the floor and let the dog wash their face!

  4. i knew of Julia when growing up. I only thought of food as necessary when hungry vs living to eat. I have since repented and seen the pilot light so to speak. ;) She re-energized me as an adult. I am learning through her, and others similar to her the Art of Cooking. I appreciate this forum and the love shown to me, a newbie.

    1. That’s lovely, Kelley. (And quite clever on the pilot light!) Julia had such a profound effect on so many of us, and I think it’s a lasting testament to the power that a single lovely human being can have in this world. Many thanks for sharing that, and we’re so happy to have you as a reader of our site!

  5. Can’t say I ever met her but I was in the same room with her once. An ambitious friend of mine was running a little restaurant and he had somehow wrangled her into coming down for a reception / fundraiser of some sort. If you were a regular customer, looked vaguely prosperous and contributed to the cause…you were in. So we went and while I was too cool (dumb) to stand in line to meet the great lady & have her sign a book I do remember one thing: She was the happiest person in the room. Joyful. Thrilled to be there. In what for her had to be yet another reception in yet another restaurant she was simply, genuinely just…happy to be there. And she was tall….

  6. I loved Julia on TV. She was so fun and encouraging. She made you feel you could do anything in the kitchen. And that thing about grilled vegetables? Yeah. A vegetable has never touched my charcoal grill.

  7. I watched Julia for years and was inordinately pleased one day when she displayed a number of appliances designed for cooking eggs. They were the newest gadget at the time and the one I had purchased the day before was sitting prominently on her counter. I basked briefly in the glow of thinking that Julia and I had similar discerning taste in cooking equipment. It faded quickly when she picked it up, held it high and dumped it in the trash can, saying (as only she could) that it was absolute ridiculous nonsense. She was, of course, correct!

  8. I’ve just returned from a Les Dames D’escoffier tea party given by Nathalie Dupree in honor of her mentor, Julia. I was greeted at the door with a glass of champagne, given a large (um,very large and rather asymmetrical) “Sunday go to meeting” hat and draped in pearls. I was then, along with similarly clad food professionals, regaled with stories about Julia. The guest of honor? Her nephew, who came down specially for the occasion. An afternoon party filled with love and laughs. She would have loved it.

  9. When I first found Leite’s Culinaria, it was the atmosphere of community, respect, helpfulness, gratitude, and humanity that drew me back. Yes, the recipes are wonderful, testing was great fun, but it was the sense of belonging in a group of open and generous people that brought me back time and time again. It’s been many years since I first discovered Leite’s and many things have changed, but not the humanity and the sense of belonging to a large and magical family. Here it’s happened again, a shared history of memories of a woman well loved who placed being genuine and human above celebrity and fame. Thank you everyone for inviting me to the table.

    1. Hi Donna, it is so good to hear from you! Thank you so much for your kind words- we sure do miss you at Leites.

  10. I grew up in an Italian house in a very WASP neighborhood. We were always just a bit different—I grew tall—and at 13 this made me even more “different” so I learned to love books. Julia’s was the first cookbook I ever read. I was so happy that there was a tall role model for me who loved to cook. So I followed in her footsteps- In the kitchen I was no longer that odd tall “Eye-talian.” I was a gazelle…,ya, well ok, maybe not quite a gazelle, but certainly less awkward. When I burnt a soufflé and wanted to fling it across the room in a fit of temper, it was Julia’s words that kept me sane–well, sort of sane, as sane as any chef can be, I suppose. She inspired so many of us–what a wonderful legacy. Happy birthday, Julia! A drink or 6 in your honor! Everything in moderation….

  11. My most lasting memory of Julia was when I had started my cooking school in the mid 70’s. She said to me “don’t apologize if something doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, just say this is how I like it.” She was so special and always encouraging.

  12. Here is my Julia story…Years ago when she was promoting The Way to Cook, she came to San Francisco. I went to the demo with my friend Jim. After the demo and lunch, Julia sat down to sign her books. Jim, always bold, went behind the table, kneeled down next to Julia and had me snap their picture. A year or two later, he was in Boston visiting friends and on a whim, picked up the phone book and, lo and behold, there in the phone book, a listing for Paul and Julia Child. He called and left a message on the answering machine…telling her who he was, that they had met in SF on her book tour, he was in Boston and could she recommend a good restaurant for dinner. Some time later, the phone rings and at the other end of the line is that distinctive voice asking for my friend. Julia had a few restaurants she could recommend, but as it happened she was having some people for dinner the following evening, would he and his friend like to come to her house for dinner as well? Would he??? Of course he would. Jim called me to tell me about this invitation….said his friend would never appreciate the experience as much as I would so could I hop a plane to Boston to have dinner with Julia? It truly would have been the experience of a lifetime, but I had just given birth to my son, three weeks beforehand and there was no way I could go. Jim and his friend had a wonderful evening in Julia’s kitchen. They continued to keep in touch, everytime she came to SF they would meet for a drink. I love this memory because it says so much about Julia as a person. I don’t regret missing out on the opportunity to meet her, I have a great son who means the world to me and I have a great story about the time I almost got to have dinner with Julia.

    1. What a lovely story, Judy, and a great memory for your friend Jim. I wish that I had the pleasure of meeting Julia- I was so completely hooked on her TV shows, her statuesque appearance and that amazing voice.

  13. Love! Thank you, Renee. Years ago, I was reading her biography on a flight to Boston when the man sitting next to me asked if I had ever met Julia yet. Flabbergasted, I told him I hadn’t–and wondered why he thought I would have. He proceeded to give me details of her weekly visits to the market. Now I wish I had worked up the nerve to seek her out.

    1. You are very welcome, Susan! And you know, I think you brushed up close enough to her. I don’t know about you, but I think I would’ve been at a loss for words had I ever, in fact, been face to face with the grand dame!

  14. I learnt something today. I discovered your site filled with goodies and a serving of Julia sayings! Growing up in South Africa in the ’60’s, we did not have TV at all in the nation (horrors). So no Julia Child on the air, but I do remember my mother using and abusing the large lady’s recipe book, with spills, messy fingers, and rabid dog eared pages. A devout woman, she once ventured in a low voice–“my other bible.”

    As a kitchen designer, I was struck by Julia’s kitchen once on view in DC. So Simple, so functional–sentiments echoed by many of the comments on your site.

    1. Peter, we’re so glad we could be part of your lesson today. And welcome to LC! I think you’ll find it a friendly place, with plenty of rigorously tested recipe and a good heaping of award-wining food writing.

  15. Really enjoyed this post. Would recommend “Best of the French Chef” DVDs (Netflix has them) including the extras for some absolutely remarkable perspective on a stunning woman. To move to France and come away with her body of work and experience-not just on cooking but on a life well-lived– is a landmark for all of us to aspire to….

  16. Love that you listed these quotes. She is by far and large the one woman who really did change the landscape for female chefs and chefs in general. So down to earth, not an elitist bone in her body.

    One of my favorite quotes by her came off one of her Baking with Julia shows on PBS. The person baking with her accidentally cracked some egg shell into the cake batter. Before they could fish it out – Julia “OH, leave it in there, extra calcium!”, and she meant it! :)

  17. From the first time on a tiny TV to Saturday Night Live skit to Cooking with Jacques, Julia will always be in my mind with a giggle inside!!

    1. I know! This interview in particular comes close to containing all the life lessons one could want. Use fat in your cooking, don’t snack (except for goldfish crackers), keep a good temper, and don’t cry. It messes up your makeup.

  18. Sometimes little bits are all you need to get a good glimpse of the big picture and this list is a wonderful example. I love the randomness which really reflects how people learn things in life. “Live and eat for your own pleasure” is the big message I’m getting from her words. Now that’s something I’ll embrace forever!

  19. I love this! It is simple and true perfection. And most people have forgotten most of the simple truths in life. Love Love Love this! Can’t say it enough! :-)

  20. Lovely! I still remember a demonstration by Julia at Macy’s Herald Square many years ago when she did the chicken bit – let it drop to the floor, picked it up, dusted it off and said that only she was in the kitchen, no one would know what had happened. She was a treasure and is much missed by me and thousands more.

    1. Louise, what a priceless memory to cherish. I wish I could have seen Julia in person, but alas. I did catch some broadcasts, and of course I have her cookbooks. Her wisdom, determination, and just plain “real-ness” are indeed missed. Thanks for commenting.

    2. Hi Louise,

      She was the greatest, wasn’t she? I remember my mom managed to flip over an apple pie while taking it out of the oven. She just flipped it back over, covered it with ice cream and called it Apple Pie a la Julia Child. No one ever knew.

    1. I am not among those whom Julia taught to cook in a literal sense, however… she DID teach me how to keep it all real in the kitchen, how to really enjoy food itself and the process. You know, with more life and humor than my own tendencies toward perfection or worrying I’m “doing it right.” (Hmm… come to think of it, maybe this means that she DID teach me to cook after all!) Thanks for commenting.

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