Friday, August 17, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Julia Child's "The French Chef" cooking demos

Her lectern was a kitchen island, and, as you can see in the photo at right, she had a television crew at her feet while she spoke. Because it was a public television show on a tight budget, she was encouraged to start talking and not to stop, if at all possible, to avoid racking up overtime charges. Oh, and one more thing: While she spoke for nearly a half-hour, she had to make a classic French dish from scratch, explaining clearly how you could make the same dish in your kitchen from planning the dish to serving it at the table. You try it, sometime.

This week, August 15 marked the 100th anniversary of Julia Child's birth, and anyone whose public speaking consists of training, teaching or lecturing would do well to study Child's first and most famous television series, "The French Chef." Launched in 1963, it revolutionized how Americans cooked at home, created a new vision of what public television could be, and stands today as a great example of instructional speaking. "I won't do anything unless I'm told why I'm doing it. So I felt that we needed fuller explanations so that if you followed one of those recipes, it should turn out exactly right," she told Terry Gross in an interview. She became the model to follow, and while today, food television even has its own channel, Child was a pioneer in teaching cooking on television.

Watch any of the "French Chef" shows and consider them as a recipe for public speaking, mixing clear explanations and definitions with a dash of humor and a flurry of demonstrations using props--a.k.a, kitchen tools and food. In the episode shown here, Child shows and tells us how to make a quiche Lorraine, starting with a pie crust from scratch. "I'll give full details as we go along," she reassures her viewers, and that she does. Here's what you can learn from Child's instructional "lectures:"
  • Musicality helps you vocalize and emphasize points: Much has been made--and made funny--about Child's voice, but if you listen to her, the musicality of it shines through. It's a quality that helps her vocalize better, emphasizing particular words with different tones and rhythms. In an instructional show that conveyed hundreds of facts and nuances, that vocal variety helped her to hold attention and direct the viewer about what was most important.
  • Enthusiasm carries the instruction: Audiences loved watching Child demonstrate cooking, whether live or televised, primarily because her own enjoyment and enthusiasm were evident as she worked. If she loved a dish or an ingredient, or favored a particular kitchen tool, you knew about it.  Too often, speakers who train or teach forget that audiences can be captivated by the instructor's enthusiasm. Here, it's a vital ingredient in Child's success as a speaker.
  • Descriptions and details can help your viewers "see:" Shut your eyes and listen to Child walk you through the recipe. You'll be able to see it in your mind's eye because she's so deft at creating what I call invisible visuals. They make her instruction all the easier to remember--another key ingredient when you're speaking in order to instruct an audience.
Here's a tribute to Child on The Splendid Table, including more interview clips from fellow cooking teacher Lynne Rosetto Kasper. You'll hear how audiences lined up to see her, something every speaker dreams of:



You can read more about Child in the new biography Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child. Here's the video of Child demonstrating that quiche. What do you think of this famous speech/quiche?


Watch Quiche Lorraine on PBS. See more from The French Chef.


(Paul Child photo of Julia Child on "The French Chef" set in its first year on air, 1963, from the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University)