Cooking in D.C. with Julia Child

By Paula J. Johnson
A group of chefs in the kitchen

Fans and friends of Julia Child will pause today, as they do every year on August 15, to remember the beloved icon of American culinary history on her birthday. Although it's been 10 years since her passing, Julia is well remembered for her achievements as a gifted cookbook author, a marvelously entertaining television cook, and an inspirational teacher, mentor, and friend. This post by Curator Paula Johnson recalls Julia's interest in bringing a new generation of cooks into the kitchen.

Julia Child with Washington, D.C., public school students. Photograph courtesy of Linda White.
Julia Child with Washington, D.C., public school students. Photograph courtesy of Linda White.

Here at the home of Julia Child's kitchen, we are observing what would have been Julia's 102nd birthday by sharing a story that came to light recently during a special tour of the exhibition that features her famous kitchen—FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000. While guiding a group of museum donors through the gallery, one of the guests took me aside to say that Julia Child had visited her classroom in the District of Columbia many years ago and had helped her students learn some basic cooking techniques. Versions of this happen all the time: no matter how many stories we've collected about Julia, there's always another memory simmering on a back burner somewhere. This story was brought to the fore by Linda Crichlow White, a retired home economics/culinary arts teacher who taught in the D.C. Public School system for 18 years.

The year was 1992 and Julia Child was well ensconced as the dean of cooking shows on American television. It had been almost 30 years since "The French Chef" series was launched on PBS and she was working on a new series, her sixth, called "Cooking with Master Chefs." With her various cookbook projects and her involvement with the American Institute of Wine and Food, which she co-founded in 1981 with Richard Graff and Robert Mondavi, Julia was also at the forefront of what might be called the good food movement that was emerging around the country. She was also appearing on national television every Tuesday morning, delivering a short cooking spot on ABC's "Good Morning America."

It was her work for "Good Morning America" that eventually landed Julia in Linda White's home-ec class at Eastern High School. Linda had been teaching at Eastern since 1986. Sharing in the widespread and growing interest for developing educational programs around cooking and nutrition, she spearheaded the renovation of the school's Foods Lab and an adjacent dining area to bring more students into the culinary arts and nutrition programs.

One noted program was the revolutionary Careers through Culinary Arts Program, or C-CAP, the brainchild of Chef Richard Grausman. Trained at the famed Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Grausman had spent 15 years traveling around the country teaching Americans the techniques of French cooking. Author of At Home with the French Classics (1988), he was part of New York's burgeoning culinary circles.

Then, chance propelled Grausman into educational outreach. At a meeting of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, a representative from a major food company forecast a future of cookless kitchens and microwave-equipped vehicles. Grausman decided then to do what he could to change that trajectory. He would focus on making basic cooking skills part of the public school curriculum in inner city neighborhoods. Getting kids interested in food was the first step toward teaching skills that could lead to careers in the restaurant and hospitality industry.

In 1991, Grausman launched the C-CAP in New York as a high-school based course in French cooking, and the following year he came to Washington, D.C. He contacted Mrs. Emma King, the supervising director of home economics for DC Public Schools, who helped facilitate the implementation of C-CAP in the city. With help from corporate sponsors, the program provided funding for food, supplies, and scholarships in 12 local schools. C-CAP also offered training for teachers like Linda White and, over the years, she completed classes at the local L'Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island, and the Disney Institute in Florida.

On a spring day in 1992, Richard Grausman met Julia Child and her "Good Morning America" film crew in Linda White's classroom. The two Le Cordon Bleu trained chefs spent the day teaching the students to prepare sautéed breast of chicken with ham, peppers and tomatoes; a French apple tart; watercress soup; rice pilaf; and crêpes sucrées with crème pâtissière and chocolate sauce. The cameras captured the busy classroom, with shots showing Julia towering over some of the students as she gave advice and lent a helping hand. On June 8, Julia's segment of GMA featured this special cooking class and the C-CAP story.

Left to right: Julia Child, Chef Snell, Richard Grausman, and Linda White. Photograph by Eric White. Courtesy Linda White.
Left to right: Julia Child, Chef Snell, Richard Grausman, and Linda White. Photograph by Eric White. Courtesy Linda White.

Linda recalled, 22 years later, "My impression of Julia was that she was very down-to-earth" and that the students responded to her because they were used to watching her cooking programs. She said, "The students could see that 'others' and not just Mrs. White stressed the importance of 'proper' food preparation and service." She added, "It is extremely important for kids to know how to cook. One thing everyone has to do is to EAT. And hopefully eat properly—healthfully. Young and old need to know proper nutrition and proper culinary techniques... baste, blend, broil, bake. They need to know culinary tools and procedures. Of course, I—and most cooking teachers—stress the importance of safety and sanitation foremost. Folks need to know about cuisine—local, national, and international. Too many people eat the same thing all the time... but there are so many choices in the world! Folks need to know about the various ingredients... how they taste, where they come from, how they work together—as Richard Grausman used to say—understand the nuances..."

While C-CAP is no longer part of the D.C. school system, it is still going strong in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Arizona, and Virginia. In 2012, the program awarded over $3 million in culinary scholarships.

This is also an excellent moment to contemplate Julia Child's legacy, which extends to millions of people, young and old, who learned to cook by watching her television shows and reading her books. Her legacy continues to grow as new students enroll in the many culinary schools now thriving around the country. The charitable foundation that bears her name—The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts—furthers her interest in encouraging people to learn to cook, to care about food, and to share the pleasures of the table. The foundation provides support to numerous educational groups and programs, including the C-CAP and our program, the American Food and Wine History Project at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

With our thanks, happy birthday, Julia!

Video showing scenes from Julia Child and Richard Grausman's visit to Eastern High School. Courtesy of Linda White.


Paula Johnson is a curator in the Division of Work and Industry. We have also blogged about a photo shoot with Julia, her seafood tools, and Julia's influence on a Top Chef.