by Sandra Hutchinson
In 2001, when the food historians at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. learned that famous chef, TV personality and cookbook author Julia Child (1912-2004) was selling her home in Cambridge, Mass. and moving back to her home state of California, they contacted her to discuss the possibility of including some of her culinary objects in the museum’s collection. They were invited to visit Ms. Child in Cambridge, and she agreed to donate the entirety of her kitchen to the museum — literally every object that she had collected and used in her kitchen from the late 1940s, through 2001, including appliances, pots and pans, cookbooks on the shelf, even the magnets on the fridge.
The kitchen was the set for several of Julia Child’s television shows. For taping, the TV crews removed the table in the center of the kitchen and pulled in a center island with stovetops. Visitors to the exhibit peer into the kitchen through several plexiglass panels.
The exhibit at the museum includes a continually running video loop of some classic Julia Child television moments, including the show in which she introduces the “chicken sisters,” which she refers to as “peeps,” and her explanation on how to make multiple omelettes to feed a crowd.
The museum also presents monthly cooking demonstrations on a stage in a different part of the museum. The day I visited, I attended a cooking demonstration to celebrate what would have been Julia Child’s 106th birthday. A chef from the store Sur la Table prepared a lavender scented creme brûlée and a bouillabaisse, similar to what she imagined Julia Child would have made while she lived in Provence in southern France. A museum food historian provided commentary and some background on Julia Child’s life while the dishes were being prepared.
Julia Child’s kitchen is on the ground floor of the National Museum of American History, located on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., between 12th and 14th streets. The kitchen is part of a larger exhibit on American Food from 1950 to 2000. Of course, the museum is a tremendous destination itself for the many other exhibits and programs.