Bon Appétit! Julia Child's Kitchen on Display at the Smithsonian
July 14, 2002
Press Preview August 19, 9:30 a.m.
A new exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Behring Center will allow visitors a glimpse into the culinary world of America's favorite chef -- Julia Child. "Bon Appétit! Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonian" will be on view from Aug. 19 through February 2004.
After deciding to move back to her home state of California, Child donated the kitchen and its contents -- some 1,200 objects -- from her Cambridge, Mass. home to the museum. With the exception of Child's French copper pots, the exhibition has everything from the original kitchen including the cabinets, counters, cookbooks, Garland commercial range, and hundreds of utensils and gadgets. Museum staff carefully disassembled and catalogued the contents in Child's home and reassembled the 14-foot-by-20 foot kitchen in the museum gallery. In addition to viewing the kitchen itself, visitors will explore Child's early life and career as a ground breaking television chef and cookbook author through photographs and video clips.
"With this kitchen, the museum has acquired an 'object' that perfectly represents how Child changed the way Americans think about their food," said Marc Pachter, Acting Director of the museum. "Julia Child demystified cooking. She came into our homes and showed us that cooking, especially French cooking, was fun and something that anyone could do in their own home."
In many ways this is an average kitchen that can be found in homes across the U.S. -- with ordinary refrigerator magnets and a dime-store dish drainer. But special touches hint at the skill of the cook such as professional appliances, magnetic bars holding her knife collection and pots and pans hanging on peg-board covered walls. Child's husband, Paul, designed the look and layout of the kitchen when they moved into their home in 1961. Because Child is 6 feet 2 inches tall, the counter tops were built 38 inches high, two inches higher than in standard kitchens.
"This is her kitchen," said Rayna Green, co-curator of the exhibition. "It looks just the way it did when she worked in it in Cambridge -- a place where she cooked for herself, her family and friends and for the American people."
In this kitchen, Child tested recipes for cookbooks and filmed the last three of her television cooking shows. Through her cookbooks such as Mastering the Art of French Cooking (vol. 1, 1961; vol. 2, 1970) and television shows including The French Chef, Child used her distinctive personality to influence American cooking. In the 1950s and '60s, when many Americans were cooking with pre-packaged foods, Julia Child demonstrated that they could instead produce sophisticated foods easily by using the right tools and simple step-by-step directions. Her approach had a tremendous impact on the way cookbooks and cookbook authors were viewed. Before Child, publishers of cookbooks generally assumed that American cooks would not be interested in anything fancy or foreign, but the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking changed that notion when it sold an unprecedented 1.25 million copies by 1974.
Child believes that by sharing her kitchen with the American people, she will continue her life's mission. "I am very proud indeed that the Smithsonian wants my kitchen. Through this gift to the Smithsonian, if I can influence Americans to 'keep in the kitchen' and make it a real family room and a real part of their lives, I will have succeeded beyond hope," said Child.
The exhibition was made possible through the financial support of The American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF), KitchenAid, ARAMARK and Industrial Crating, Inc.
Mayor Anthony Williams of Washington D. C. has proclaimed August 18 as "Julia Child Day" in the District of Columbia, and the City Council has declared the week of August 18 through 24 as "Julia Child Week." The exhibition opens in August to coincide with Child's 90th birthday.
A companion Web site to the exhibition features stories about moving the kitchen to the Smithsonian, photos and background information about Child, her books and her kitchen, and is available at http://americanhistory.si.edu/kitchen.
The National Museum of American History traces American heritage through exhibitions of social, cultural, scientific and technological history. Collections are displayed in exhibitions that interpret the American experience from Colonial times to the present. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at http://americanhistory.si.edu or call (202) 633-1000.