Cooking with Julia & Jean-Louis
Beverly Stephen - February 21st, 2014
In 1994, Jean-Louis Palladin stepped behind the camera to appear on Julia Child: Cooking with Master Chefs. His show, “Foie Gras with Jean-Louis Palladin,” was the first in the 16 part series. Executive producer Geoffrey Drummond reminisces about shooting the show.
“It was really an adventure,” recalls television executive producer Geoffrey Drummond. “That series was the first time there was a transition from featuring the restaurant to featuring the chef. I know that Julia was really so pleased to see the beginning of recognition of chefs.”
Drummond explains that he was looking for someone to host a series with a working title of Masterpiece Cooking, and Jacques Pépin had suggested Julia Child. “I went up to Cambridge and met with her. I said to her, ‘You could be like Alistaire Cooke.’ And she said, ‘I could be Alistaire Cookie!’”
And so the format was born: Child would do the introductions, and the chefs would cook. Drummond and Child spent about two years meeting and planning and searching for the talent.
“Jean-Louis was really acknowledged as the super premiere creative chef at that time. And Jean-Louis at Watergate was considered one of the top restaurants in America,” Drummond recalls, “but he was not well-known to the public. Not a lot of the chefs were well-known. Emeril was just starting. He had never done TV before. Alice Waters was probably the most well-known, but it was absolutely Julia’s fame that carried the show.”
Even though she just did the intros, Drummond says “Julia insisted on being at every shoot. She said ‘If my name is attached to this, I’m going to be there.’”
In those days, they had to find private homes with large enough kitchens to accommodate a shoot. Often the homes belonged to well-heeled customers, loyal to the individual chefs. “Back then, chefs were not making millions of dollars. They were not TV stars,” Drummond says. “More often than not, they lived upstairs or around the corner from their restaurants. They had small home kitchens.
“We went down to D.C. to film Jean-Louis, using a house in Georgetown that belonged to one of his regulars. It had a very nice kitchen with a great big green Aga stove and a fireplace. Jean-Louis cooked duck breast hanging from a string in the fireplace, so obviously we needed a house with a nice big fireplace. I guess it was reminiscent of the fireplace he had grown up with in Southwest France.”
Of course, as the title of the show states, “he sautéed foie gras with a sauce of poached apples,” Drummond added. He reveals that a lot of the chefs wanted to do foie gras on the show “because it was the haute ingredient of the time. But it felt like Jean-Louis was the one to do it. Just like Charlie Palmer was the guy to cook a big steak.”
With each episode, they spent a lot of time with the chefs and got to know them quite well. Not so today, Drummond points out, when a chef might film as many as six segments in a single day.
“We spent a day rehearsing in the location and then a second day actually shooting. Every night, we ate at the restaurants of the chefs we were going to film the next day.”
Drummond came away with a great sense of admiration for Palladin and his absolute dedication to his art.
“I knew Jean-Louis had a great wild streak about him, but I never saw it. When he was cooking, he was all about his cooking. My greatest visual memory—he was tall and lanky—was when he cooked, he was kind of bent, stooped over these great big copper pots. You felt a communing with the food as it transformed. There was such a high degree of concentration. That was probably the way he approached everything. When he was on something, he was on it. People loved him—everybody who worked with him or interacted with him. They would all tell these stories about his wild side. He was like a Southwestern French cowboy. He was great at what he did.”
And yet, the show was not all that popular. “It was very esoteric and beyond the reach and imagination of most of the audience,” Drummond says regretfully. “He also had a very thick accent. Even now it’s difficult getting an American audience to really follow a French chef.”
There were few requests from viewers for the transcript of the show or for the recipes. “The most popular one in that series,” he says, “was Nancy Silverton’s baking show. And that’s why I ended up doing a baking series.”
Note: Palladin's television debut happened the year before, on October 22, 1993, when he cooked a large clam bisque on the Late Show with David Letterman (which itself had only made its debut that August).
Without further ado, Julia Child: Cooking with Master Chefs, “Foie Gras with Jean-Louis Palladin.”
Watch Jean-Louis Palladin deftly handle a lobe of foie gras, then twirl duck breasts dangling in front of an open fire to roast them the way Palladin remembers his family preferred cooking many meats.