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Design Tips Inspired by The French Chef

Julia Child was a pioneer in the world of haute cuisine at a time when celebrity “chefdom” was a decidedly manly occupation.  She didn’t care.  The kitchen was her natural habitat and she had her own ways of making it work for her whether she was whipping up a soufflé or flaming a creme brûlée.

 

The French Chef, Julia Child

 

 

 Child is credited with bringing French cuisine to America in the 1960s and was host of The French Chef on PBS which aired from 1963-1973.   Interestingly, she did not learn to cook until she met her husband Paul Child, an American diplomat with a refined palate. Julia also worked for the government during WWII as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). It was in this capacity that she created her first recipe which was for shark repellent! It worked and is still in use today.  After the war the couple settled in Paris where Paul worked for the US Foreign Service and Julia attended the renowned Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.  She had fallen in love with French cuisine.  Julia stood 6’2”, never had any children and left this world in 2004, two days shy of her 92nd birthday.  She was quoted as saying, “with enough butter, anything is good”.  Apparently her health was none the worse for it.

 

Julia Child kitchen, National Museum of American History
Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

 

Julia’s real life kitchen was donated, moved and reassembled in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 2001. The layout was devised by Julia and her husband and customized to her cooking needs, including higher counter tops to accommodate her height. Pots and cooking utensils are all placed exactly as they were in her home.   Today Julia would be utterly amazed at the advancements in appliances, materials and new storage options. Although her kitchen goes back 50 years she had ideas and practices that are very relevant today.  Here is what I think today’s kitchen would look like through the eyes of The French Chef.

 

Peg Board system by Rev A Shelf
Peg Board System by Rev A Shelf

 

Organization and Easy Access

Julia was known for her handy and efficient peg board system.  Companies like Rev-A-Shelf have taken this concept and expanded it so that it doesn’t have to be on the wall.  Moving pegs allow these inserts to be customized.  This is especially handy for dish storage in new kitchens that feature fewer upper cabinets.  A “Julia kitchen” includes a place for everything and everything in it’s place.

 

Rev A Shelf peg board
Yet another variation of peg board storage by Rev A Shelf. Kitchen by Artful Kitchens. Cabinets by Brendan Donovan Furniture & Cabinet Co. Photo by Mike Spallholz Photography

To Make the Cut You Must Have Great Knives

A self-proclaimed knife freak, Julia collected them all her life and never met one that was sharp enough for her! Check out this delightful anecdote from the New England Historical Society and you’ll see what I mean.  I agree that there is nothing more frustrating in the kitchen than dull knife. The winner in my book is J.A. Henckels International 8″ Classic Chef’s Knife in terms of quality and value for the money.

J A Henckels pro chef knife
J A Henckels Pro Chef knife is a bump up, available at Williams Sonoma

Having a great knife is half of the equation, now we have to store them.  Julia preferred to house them on a magnet attached to the wall.  Today she would love this railing system by Clever Storage that allows you to take advantage of the space between upper and lower cabinets.  It’s safe, attractive and accessible.  Win!

 

Wooden Knife Block by Clever Storage
Wooden Knife Block by Clever Storage hangs on a rail.

 

The Mother Ship of Ranges

Julia used a 1950s six burner used commercial gas range by Garland.  This company is still in business so you can get a modern version today but I’m betting Julia would fall for the TriFuel range by Tecnogas Superiore for its state of the art versatility.  In fact, it was just announced Product Innovator Award winner for 2016 by Kitchen & Bath Business Magazine.  It features dual gas burners plus four induction zones and an electric griddle. Below are dual gas ovens equipped with two convection fans and a broiler.

The Garland Commercial Range in Julia Child's kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts
The Garland Commercial Range in Julia Child’s kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts

 

Trifuel Range by Tecno Superiore
Trifuel Range by Tecno Superiore

 

The Beauty of Butcher Block

The French Chef was fond of her extra high maple counter tops for food preparation.  You may not want an entire kitchen with wood tops but, if you can, it’s great to have a section of it for food prep.  Wood butcher block counters are a natural eco-friendly choice, absorb noise, are gentle on dishes and can be refinished.  In addition to this, wood has inherent antibacterial qualities and can add a beautiful warmth to your kitchen. If you’re going to use your counter for food prep it should have an oiled finish which does need to be maintained.

 

Walnut counter tops by J. Aaron
Walnut counter tops by J. Aaron

 

 

Last but not least never enter the kitchen without a sense of humor and adventure Child was never without it!  She said, “in cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude!”

-If you’d like to experience cooking like a French chef  you can stay at what was once Julia and Paul’s part-time residence in Provence, France courtesy of Airbnb.

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Gloria Graham-Sollecito

Gloria is a kitchen and bath cabinetry designer with AKBD certification from the National Kitchen & Bath Association. She has also served on the Florida Treasure Coast Chapter's Board of Directors as the VP of Communications. Her work has appeared on This Old House as well as in Florida Design Magazine, K+BB Magazine and the Palm Beach Post. She is co-author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Remodeling Your Kitchen, Illustrated, as well as a freelanced writer contributing occasionally to the Sun Sentinel in the area of kitchen design. She is a proud member of the Blanco Design Council and the illustrious Brizo Blogger 19.

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