Julia Child′s The French Chef

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 34 illustrations Published: August 2011

Author: Dana Polan

American Studies, Cultural Studies > Food Studies, Media Studies > TV

Julia Child’s TV show, The French Chef, was extraordinarily popular during its broadcast from 1963 until 1973. Child became a cultural icon in the 1960s, and, in the years since, she and her show have remained enduring influences on American cooking, American television, and American culture. In this concise book, Dana Polan considers what made Child’s program such a success. It was not the first televised cooking show, but it did define and popularize the genre. Polan examines the development of the show, its day-to-day production, and its critical and fan reception. He argues that The French Chef changed the conventions of television’s culinary culture by rendering personality indispensable. Child was energetic and enthusiastic, and her cooking lessons were never just about food preparation, although she was an effective and unpretentious instructor. They were also about social mobility, the discovery of foreign culture, and a personal enjoyment and fulfillment that promised to transcend domestic drudgery. Polan situates Julia Child and The French Chef in their historical and cultural moment, while never losing sight of Child’s unique personality and captivating on-air presence.


“At its best, this is a book that occupies an interesting ground between scholarship, journalism and, on a few occasions, autobiography. . . .” — Janet Floyd, Celebrity Studies

“Dana Polan has done a tremendous amount of research to show just how revolutionary The French Chef was. . . . This is a truly wonderful book.” — Donna Safford, Books and Such blog

“This is a fine chronicle of Child and the difference she made in American cookery, American television, and American culture. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers.” — R. Ray, Choice

“[A] history of early American television telescoped through the persona and history of Julia Child. . . . [F]ascinating. . . . Mr. Polan’s meticulous work in Julia Child’s The French Chef contributes much to the growing literature on American food history.” — Cynthia D. Bertelsen, New York Journal of Books

“[Polan’s] writing is consistently engaging, whether he's discussing chicken carcasses being made to dance along the counter or the technical implications of a dropped soufflé. He also brings a steady influx of humor and interesting tangents to his account. . . . Thoroughly researched and wonderfully illuminating, Polan's book will earn admiration in both readers interested in television and those interested in Julia Child.” — Andi Diehn, Foreword Reviews

Julia Child’s The French Chef is a fabulous book filled with delicious nuggets about the television series that changed what Americans ate—and what Americans watched on television. The book is both entertaining and informative, and it is timely, for it has been nearly fifty years since the series first aired. Dana Polan is as bright, insightful, and companionable as was the television series. Bravo!” — Andrew F. Smith, Editor, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America

“In Julia Child’s The French Chef, Dana Polan offers a fascinating new perspective on Child and her on-air persona. He demonstrates the crucial interplay among the celebrity (Julia), handler (her husband, Paul), and producer (the public television station WGBH), and the way they all came together into such a magical whole. This investigation is an important contribution to our understanding of Child’s seminal role in shaping American attitudes toward food.” — Darra Goldstein, Editor in Chief, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture

“With a refreshing intellectual passion, Dana Polan offers a compelling glimpse into the industrial and cultural ethos of Julia Child and her television show, The French Chef. Polan carefully delineates a model for how to study the media through an individual program, and in so doing, provides a definitive reason for the need to study popular culture in a theoretically and methodologically rigorous way. Essential for those in food and food-related studies, this insightful and engaging book will also be a must-read for media studies scholars.” — Sarah Banet-Weiser, author of Kids Rule!: Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Dana Polan is Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University. He is the author of The Sopranos, also published by Duke University Press, and Scenes of Instruction: The Beginnings of the U.S. Study of Film.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. The Difference She Made 1

2. Television Cookery b.c. (Before Child) 41

3. French Cuisine, American Style 78

4. The Beginnings of The French Chef 114

5. Prepping The French Chef 137

6. The Success of The French Chef 185

7. New Beginnings and the Ending to The French Chef 214

8. Kitchen Drama 231

Notes 249

References 277

Further Readings on TV Cooking Shows 285

Index 289
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4872-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4859-7
Publicity material