Like many people over the holidays, I ate WAY too much of everything. During one of my food comas, I started to think about some of the greatest chefs of all time. Ultimately, I put Julia Child at the top of my list. Ms. Child was a unique character – she stood 6’2” and possessed a very usual, yet charming, warbly voice. She revolutionized cooking by bringing French cuisine to the United States with her seminal cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking was one of the first cookbooks I ever purchased, and I still use it. One of the things that has always struck me whether reading Ms. Child’s recipes or watching her on television, was the absolute joy she exhibited when cooking. It was clear that she loved what she was doing and it showed.
So, how was Ms. Child able to achieve such joyfulness? Let’s look at some of the ways she was able to do so.
- She was never afraid to try new things and stretch herself. After World War II, Ms. Child and her husband moved to France. Not long after their arrival, she grew frustrated that she could not speak the language and enrolled in French classes. Also, after developing a love for French food, at the age of 37, she enrolled in culinary school (Le Cordon Bleu), and the rest is history. According to Ms. Child, “The more you know, the more you can create.”
- She was fearlessly passionate. As mentioned above, when Ms. Child decided that she wanted to learn how to master French cuisine, she enrolled in culinary school. Every day, after her classes were over, she would go home and practice her cooking techniques for hours. Throughout her career, whenever she created a new recipe, she would test and re-test the recipe until it was clear and precise. She would often ask family and friends for their feedback as well. She had a constant thirst for knowledge and never quit until she mastered what she had learned. Ms. Child said it the best when she said, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”
- She was confident. In Ms. Child’s mind, she was going to speak and understand French, she was going to master French cuisine, and she was going to show Americans that they too could love French food and prepare it at home themselves. There was no doubt that she would achieve these things. According to Ms. Child, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a ‘what the hell’ kind of attitude.”
- She wasn’t afraid of making mistakes and when she did, she made no excuses for them. Ms. Child had many recipes that were complete failures. However, she used these failures to motivate her to work harder, find the problem and adjust the recipe accordingly. In fact, she said, “I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one’s hostess starts in with self-deprecation such as ‘Oh, I don’t know how to cook…,’ or ‘Poor little me…,’ or ‘This may taste awful…,’ it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, ‘Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal!’”
- She was calm under pressure. During one of her cooking shows, Ms. Child attempted to flip a potato pancake directly in the pan. Unfortunately, the flip did not go well, and the pancake ended up on the stovetop. What did she do? She calmly slid the pancake back into the pan, straightened the edges with a spatula and kept on cooking. She looked directly at the camera and stated that the flip failed because she did not have the “courage of her convictions.”
- She worked hard. Ms. Child tested and retested, wrote and rewrote her recipes to make sure that they were clear and precise. She wanted to make sure that people could recreate her dishes and have fun. She did not believe in short-cuts. To her, quality came from methodical testing, and constant revision and tweaking.
- She followed her dreams. Whenever Ms. Child wanted to learn something new, she just did it with fearless passion. As she said, “Life itself is the proper binge.”
As we begin a new year, we as women should seek to be joyful in all we do – whether it is launching a new product, managing a team, conducting a research project, negotiating a deal, teaching our kids or a class, caring for a sick parent, etc. If we are joyful in whatever we do, it will show and we will inspire those around us to become joyful in what they do too.
This post was written by Lisa Mueller.