Julia Child – guru for a yoga teacher

The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking yoga teaching you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” Julia Child

I have long considered Julia Child to be on my list of role models.  When I was a little girl in the early 1970’s, it seemed like my parents watched her on television nearly every night.  I remember being shushed as the familiar, chirpy strains of the theme song to her popular PBS show “The French Chef” drifted through the house.  My sister and I played on the floor of our family room as my parents sat on the couch transfixed, while in her distinctive breathy, warbling voice she showed them how to prepare Boeuf Bourguignon, or how to properly de-bone a chicken.

Just speak very loudly and quickly, and state your position with utter conviction, as the French do, and you’ll have a marvelous time teaching yoga !” Julia Child,  My Life in France

My mother went through a culinary rebirth in the 1970’s.  She methodically worked her way through “Mastering the Art of French Cooking – Volumes One and Two”.  Not only were these recipes a fixture of my childhood dinner table, but my family also enjoyed regular weeknight menus from other famous chefs of the time such as James Beard and Pierre Franey.  Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines were piled around the house, and I’m pretty sure we were the first on our block to have a Cuisinart food processor.  While my friends’ moms were preparing good old-fashioned American hamburgers for dinner, my mother was serving us “Biftek Haché à la Lyonnaise“, or “Julia Child Hamburgers” as we affectionately called them, and they were DELICIOUS.

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook do yoga, try new recipes poses, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun teaching yoga!”-Julia Child, My Life in France

As a result of my regular second-hand viewing of “The French Chef“, I spent many happy hours in my sandbox pretending to be Julia Child.  I created delicious leaf and berry adorned sand pies and served them to my little sister.  Even at a young age I recognized the authenticity of this woman on the TV screen.  She was a person I could identify with.  She was tall and gangly, passionate about what she had to offer, and totally willing to be herself for better or worse.  She was sharing information with her audience that had previously been somewhat inaccessible to the average person, and she was doing so with total confidence that her audience was every bit as capable as she of assimilating these secrets into their own lives.

“One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking teaching yoga is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed.” –Julia Child, My Life in France

I thought about her last week as I was on my way to teach a yoga class.  I volunteered to teach at a faculty retreat at my daughter’s all girls Catholic high school.  It had been a while since I’d taught a group class, and I was feeling a bit anxious.  Lately, my own regular yoga practice which I’ve counted on for 10 years to keep me sane and happy, has been a bit… lean.  I have felt like I am relying on that 10 years of hard work to keep myself on track while I work my way around, over and through the obstacles that life is presenting me that are making it hard to practice as I normally do.  The yoga teachers who have inspired me the most have been those who practice regularly themselves, but they are also those who are able to gracefully integrate the challenges of their own practices, and the clutter and commotion of ordinary life into their teaching.

“Anyone can cook in the French manner do yoga anywhere, with the right instruction.” Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1

Because this class was offered as part of a retreat, I knew that my goal was to immediately set the students at ease, and help them to take this hour to feel good and to reconnect body and mind.  Since I didn’t know them, and I had been told there would be both a pregnant woman and an 80-year-old Sister in the class, I knew I needed to keep it simple and more about relaxation than anything else.  I began the class by telling them that as long as a person can breathe, he or she can do yoga, and that their practice is their own and there was nothing that they HAD to do in the hour we spent together.  I also reminded them that yoga is not about flexibility, it is about awareness (people often say to me “I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible!”), and I encouraged them to listen to what their own bodies needed.

“…no one is born a great cook yoga teacher, one learns by doing.” -Julia Child, My Life in France

The class went great. I kept it simple and was once again surprised at how easily teaching comes to me when I relax and let it flow from my heart and from my own experience.  A few days later, I received a lovely thank you card with personal notes from some of the attendees.  Amidst the other heartfelt comments, the 80-year-old nun had written: “What a wonderful experience Chris!  Now I know that yoga can be for everyone!“.  I flashed back to my thoughts of Julia Child on my way to teach the class, and I thought what an unlikely guru she was, but at the same time, how perfect.

Julia Child Hamburgers (Biftek Haché à la Lyonnaise)

 from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck, published 1961

¾ cup finely minced yellow onions
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ pounds lean ground beef
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1 egg
½ cup flour, spread on a plate
1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil
½ cup beef stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, dry white vermouth or red wine
2-3 tablespoons butter, softened

Cook the onions slowly in the butter for about 10 minutes until very tender but not browned. Place in a mixing bowl. Add the beef, butter, seasonings and egg to the onions in the mixing bowl and mix thoroughly to combine ingredients. Form into patties ¾-inch thick. Cover with waxed paper and refrigerate until ready to use.

Just before sautéing, roll the patties lightly in the flour. Shake off excess flour. Place butter and oil in a skillet and set over moderately high heat. When you see the butter foam begin to subside, sauté the patties for 2 to 3 minutes or more each side, to desired doneness. Remove patties from skillet to warm plate.

Pour the fat out of the skillet. Add the liquid and boil it down rapidly, scraping up the coagulated pan juices, until it had reduced almost to a syrup. Off heat, swirl butter by half-tablespoons into the sauce until it is absorbed. Pour the sauce over the hamburgers and serve. Makes 6 burgers.

14 thoughts on “Julia Child – guru for a yoga teacher

  1. A beautiful expression of understanding from the “Self” within. This is true revealation from the depth of your consciousness. The Bhakti is complete…

  2. >I also reminded them that yoga is not about flexibility, it is about awareness (people often say to me “I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible!”),
    – Excellent point.

    I don’t think most of the people I know who practice yoga are aware of this. Now that I’ve given it some thought, *everyone* I know does yoga because of a “back problem”, “sinus problem”, “stress”, “asthma” and some such reason.

    I’ve never even attempted a learning session because I think I got this part right away. So my, um, excuse, is “I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible … enough to actually be quiet and let my mind just be.”

    I can spend hours reading alone (bliss!), short periods of silence in the company of nature, but I still haven’t attempted to tame the mind.

    I like how you’ve drawn fitting parallels with Julia Child’s quotes.


    • Thank you for your comments Kate… I guess it’s never too late to start a yoga/meditation practice, so if you ever decide to work on that “taming the mind” project from that perspective, you’ll always have the opportunity! Now…time for me to get up and practice what I preach…

  3. I enjoyed your post, Chris; it brought back some good memories of all of the cooking and eating we did (and still do, I guess.) So, I got out Volume I and made Carbonnades a la Flamande which is simmering in the oven. That then inspired me to make Boeuf Bourguignon which is simmering atop the stove. We’ll eat a little of the Carbonnades tonight and put all of the rest into the freezer. It’s great to be able to come home, go to the freezer and have a nice dinner. So thanks for the inspiration!

    And, I liked your comparison with the teaching of yoga. I’ll bet Julia Child would have enjoyed this post too.

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