January 01, 2012
A New Year's Resolution: Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Posted by Gordon Smith

Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking has been on my bookshelf for two years, mostly unused, since my wife purchased it for me after we first saw Julie and Julia. When we saw that movie again last week, I was inspired to take down the book and cook some eggs.

Well-cooked eggs are scrumptious, and cooking eggs well seems easy when you watch Julia:

Evidence that a picture is a worth a thousand words, the instructions in Mastering the Art of French Cooking for making an omlette -- which has only four ingredients (eggs, butter, salt, and pepper) -- are seven pages long! This is why most people never cook from Julia's classic book.

But I have been drawn in, attracted by Julia's emphasis on technique as the key to great cooking. In the original forward of the book, she wrote: "the excellence of French cooking, and of good cooking in general, is due more to cooking techniques than to anything else."

Although I have enjoyed cooking since childhood, when I spent hours in the kitchen with my mother, I am largely reliant on recipes. Julia promises something more:

Our primary purpose in this book is to teach you how to cook, so that you will understand the fundamental techniques and gradually be able to divorce yourself from a dependence on recipies.

This approach to cooking resonates with me right now. As I have contemplated my goals for the next year, Mastering the Art of French Cooking has become a metaphor for the manner in which I want to approach my teaching, my scholarship, my Church service, my family interactions, and my personal development. "Precision in the small details," Julia observed, "can make the difference between passable cooking and fine food." It's already clear to me that Mastering the Art of French Cooking is not just about food.

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