3 Things We Learned From the Appetizing New Julia Child Documentary—and Where You Can Watch It

Including the iconic chef’s signature dinner party dish.

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Two vintage images of Julia Child on a designed background
Photo: Jim Scherer. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, Photograph by Paul Child. © Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Whether you grew up watching her PBS cooking shows or just bumped into some of her more iconic moments on Youtube and Facebook, it's hard not to love Julia Child. The cookbook author and television host didn't just teach American audiences to appreciate new flavors and recipes—she also taught them to be more confident in the kitchen.

"[Child] would tell me, 'This is television. You cannot be too serious, you know, people are here to have a good time,'" Jacques Pépin, Child's longtime friend and co-host, tells EatingWell. "She made me approach television in a lighter way, certainly. That being said, at the end of each of the shows, whatever we did, she always discussed: 'What did they learn today? What did we teach?'"

Julia, a new documentary from the directors of RBG, celebrates Julia's attitude in the kitchen. She always aimed to teach—but more than that, she aimed to have fun. Even her regular dinner party guests remember the hands-on lessons they would get while preparing the meal. (They also remember her go-to dinner party dish: roast beef with potatoes and gravy.)

The film also digs into Julia's whirlwind life outside of the kitchen, from her stint in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II to her support of progressive causes. The documentary includes interviews with chefs like José Andrés and Pépin, the food critic François Simon and some of Child's friends and family. And, to make things even more mouthwatering, food stylist Susan Spungen carefully recreates some of Child's most iconic recipes in a replica of Child's kitchen built for the film.

The American who became known as The French Chef may be a cultural icon, but we promise—you're sure to learn more than you expect in this documentary. Here are just three of the tidbits that surprised us most.

1. She didn't grow up in the kitchen.

Like another one of our favorite television cooks, Ina Garten, Child wasn't encouraged to cook while growing up in Pasadena, California. As a child of a wealthier family, getting involved in the kitchen wasn't something that Child's family did often. In a 1989 interview with Terry Gross, Child chatted about how her family "always had a cook" and her mother only "cooked on Thursdays."

Child didn't hang around much in the kitchen—though she also told Gross that one of her grandmothers was an excellent cook—so she didn't take much of an interest in cooking until she met her husband, Paul Child.

2. Julia and Paul had a rom-com-worthy relationship.

The documentary explores the early days of the Childs' relationship in ways you might not be familiar with. Using letters between Paul and his brother and excerpts from Julia's journal, directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West tell the story of how Julia and Paul met while working for a precursor to the CIA during WWII. (You'll have to check out the movie to get the full picture of just how adorable these two were in their early writings.)

Julia Child (left) and Paul Child (right) pose with an Emmy trophy
Photograph by Paul Child. © Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The two later moved to Paris—you might remember that from Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci's performances in Julie & Julia—where Julia attended culinary school and had the first truly great meal of her life. Later, when Julia became a television personality and constant cook, it was Paul who helped behind the scenes. He customized their kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and occasionally made guest cameos on her PBS shows.

3. She was *not* a health-food person.

In an appearance on Jay Leno's The Tonight Show, Child made her disinterest in "health food" pretty clear. "I hate health food of any type," she said during the interview. According to the American Institute of Wine and Food, a food education nonprofit that Child co-founded, she was frustrated "with the way many Americans had learned to associate food and wine with guilt and fear."

Child wanted folks at home to take pleasure in making and eating food instead of fearing the calorie counts on their plate. One food writer, Carolyn O'Neil of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, remembers that Child's key to a healthy diet was one we still go by today: moderation. "The key to healthful dieting is to eat small helpings and a great variety of everything," Child told O'Neil in a 1997 CNN profile. "And above all, have a good time!"

How to Watch the New Julia Child Documentary

For more of Child's wisdom, check out Julia, which opens in New York and Los Angeles theaters on Friday, November 12. Look for tickets for a showing near you on Atom Tickets or try out the trailer on the film's website—just make sure you don't arrive hungry to your showing.

If you want to know more about the iconic chef right away, pick up one of the books the documentary is inspired by: My Life in France by Julia Child (buy it: $12, Amazon), The French Chef in America: Julia Child's Second Act by Alex Prud'homme (buy it: $19, Amazon) or Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz (buy it: $17, Amazon).

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