Claim: During an episode of Julia Child's television program, she dropped a turkey on the floor and then picked it up and put it back on the counter.
Examples: [Collected via e-mail, August 2009]
I saw Julia Child or her guest dropped a large fish, maybe salmon. And did say something like remember you're the only one in the kitchen. There was someone with her. And I don't know if Julia or the other person dropped the fish. But Julia picked it up and said the thing about being alone in the kitchen.
She was cutting the poultry up (which, as I recall, was a chicken), and it slid off the table onto the floor. She picked it up and said either, "We'll pretend that didn't happen", or "Just pretend you didn't see that." She continued cutting the chicken up.
- The rumor usually includes Julia Child's dropping a large poultry item or joint of meat: chicken, duck, turkey, leg of lamb, or rump roast.
- Other versions have her fumbling a chicken leg, then quickly kicking it out of sight under the kitchen cabinets and hoping the cameras will miss her flub.
- The classic "Remember, you're alone in the kitchen" is sometimes rendered as "What they don't know won't hurt them."
- On National Public Radio's Morning Edition show in 1997, Susan Stamberg provided a new twist on the old tale when she recalled how Child would "drop a chicken on the floor, wipe it off, pop it in the oven, and say that the roasting would take care of any germs."
In the late 1990s and into the new millennium, this form of televised programming has achieved a level of popularity unimaginable by earlier standards when cooking shows were simply what networks used to fill undesirable time slots, and chefs such as Emeril Lagasse have now become celebrities in their own right. Offbeat cooking shows like Japan's hugely popular Iron Chef have attained cult status in the North American viewing market. An entire cable channel (Food TV) is devoted to the genre.
And it all began with a lady who died in 2004 at the age of 91. During the course of her lifetime, she had become a much beloved figure in American culture, both on- and off-camera.
It's no wonder such a cultural icon has attracted a number of persistent rumors. Child's show taught many to cook; hers were the hands that demonstrated what cookbooks had previously explained with only words and pictures. Her savoir faire and matter-of-fact way of handling things imparted confidence into fledgling cooks, reassuring them that even the best make mistakes and that a 'disaster' is really only a temporary setback as long as one can whip up a sauce to cover it.
No one can place an accurate date on when the tale of a dropped viand began dogging Julia Child, but we do know it was being reported as a persistent rumor back in 1989. Its spread has no doubt been helped along by articles appearing in respected publications which passed some version of it along as fact. For instance, in 1992 a reporter for the Washington Post said of Child:
As Vanity Fair noted in an August 2009 profile of "the woman who revolutionized America's relationship with food":
As the show caught on, a whole cult of Julia stories sprang up. That dropped potato cake soon became, in the retelling, a dropped chicken, a roast, a whole salmon on the floor, which she picked up while saying (not), "Your guests will never know." And because Julia used wine in her cooking and toasted viewers at the show's end, people thought she was drunk on-camera, not knowing her glass of wine was really Gravy Master mixed with water.
Apocryphal tales about clever cooks and hostesses who find ways to serve dropped food to their guests aren't new, as this anecdote harvested from a 1959 humor book demonstrates:
Take the time Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge entertained friends at a Thanksgiving dinner in their Northhampton, Massachusetts, home. The maid entered the dining room, bearing aloft a magnificent, golden-brown turkey. Then, alas, she slipped and fell on her face, while the turkey skidded clear across the floor.
That's when Mrs. Coolidge showed her mettle. "Never mind, Mary," she soothed, seemingly unperturbed. "Just take this turkey back to the kitchen and bring in the other one."
NOTE: Yes, we know the image at the head of this article is a picture of actress Meryl Streep and not Julia Child.
Last updated: 28 November 2013
Barber, Cathy. "Julia Child Still Reigns in the Kitchen." Dallas Morning News. 13 December 2000. Cerf, Bennett. The Laugh's on Me. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1959 (p. 252). Jacobs, Laura. "Our Lady of the Kitchen." Vanity Fair. August 2009 (pp. 111-132). O'Neill, Molly. "Savoring the World According to Julia." The New York Times. 11 October 1989 (p. C1). Richman, Phyllis. "Julia Child at 80: Still Stirring Things Up." The Washington Post. 28 July 1992 (p. E1). Shaw, David. "Julia Child on the Half Shell." Los Angeles Times. 9 November 1997 (Book Review; p. 10). Solomon, Alan. "Queen of Cuisine." Chicago Tribune. 10 May 1995 (p. B7).