8 of Julia Child’s Favorite Kitchen Tools
Although Julia Child was a French-trained professional chef with a television series and cookbooks to her name, she took a refreshingly low-pressure approach to home cooking. She encouraged her viewers and readers to make mistakes, learn as they went, and, above all, not to take themselves too seriously. There was one area, though, in which Julia didn’t compromise: She really cared about her cookware.
With utensils, pots, and pans being of the utmost importance to Julia, she even had a system for organizing and displaying her most-used tools (perhaps you’ve heard of her pegboard wall?). With her formal training, meticulous eye for detail, and refusal to let her cooking become fussy, I was curious about what cookware she considered essential. I did a deep dive into her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and her memoir, My Life in France, to mine for mentions of must-have pots, pans, and other tools. It was no surprise that Julia called out, by name, the gear she couldn’t do without. Let’s take a look!
1. Omelette pan
It’s been said that the mark of a true chef is how well they can cook an omelette. Julia took this to heart, and in 1961, when she appeared on Today to promote her cookbook, she decided to bring her trusty omelette pan for the demonstration. Julia was distraught when the demo range proved nothing more than an electric hot plate. “The damned thing just wouldn’t heat up properly for an omelette,” she said in My Life in France. Luckily, after an hour of fiddling and five minutes of preheating the pan, she was able to produce the perfect egg dish on national television. In case you’re wondering, an omelette pan differs from a regular fry pan because it has low sides and a wide, shallow surface area.
2. A chef’s knife
Quelle surprise, I know: Another chef who loves their knives. But Julia found this tool to be so important, she mentioned it in the 40th edition introduction to Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She certainly considered it one of the first tools a budding home cook should master, stating, “There is certainly nothing particularly difficult about the basics. It is a question of getting started … or being shown how to hold the knife, chop the onion.” She also regularly encourages her readers to keep their knives sharp, and to wash them by hand. (You’re not putting your knives in the dishwasher, right?)
3. Copper pans
Copper pans certainly look gorgeous, but Julia preferred them for another reason: Their superior heat conduction. But be aware of copper imposters: In Mastering the Art, Julia warns readers to steer clear of thin, brass knockoffs. A true copper pan, she writes, should be 1/8-inch thick with an iron handle. Yes, copper discolors easily, but Julia combatted that with a mixture of half a cup of white vinegar mixed with a quarter-cup each of table salt and scouring powder, worked in with a steel wool scrubbie.
4. Baking stone
Julia devotes many pages of her memoir to the saga of perfecting her baguette recipe. After many failed attempts to create that elusive hard, crackly crust, she realizes that a brick (or ax-head) in a pan of water will create an ideal “steam-puff.” Equally important was a makeshift baking stone. Julia originally used an asbestos tile, but after learning of its connections to cancer, she and her husband Paul perfected the recipe with “quarry tile, tortoise-glaze tile, and firebrick splits.” All proved hot enough to encourage browning, without splitting or cracking in the oven. These days, you could use a quality pizza stone for the same results.
5. Mortar and pestle
Although Julia does admit that electric grinders can do the work of a traditional mortar and pestle, it’s clear she has a soft spot for the manual option. She used a mortar and pestle for more than just spices, finding the tools ideal for crushing nuts, and even puréeing meat or shellfish. Size matters here, as Julia extolled the usefulness of XL mortars. There’s a truly lovely picture in My Life in France in the chapter titled “Three Hearty Eaters” of Julia making quenelles in a mortar larger than her head.
6. Stand mixer (with all the attachments)
Go ahead: Treat yourself. Julia said so! In Mastering the Art, she encourages readers to spring for a stand mixer with all of the attachments. She used her electric stand mixer for so many things. The whip is ideal for beating egg whites — a crucial step in many French recipes — and the dough hook will save your upper arms when kneading dough. She even made use of the meat grinder and sausage stuffing jack — but unless you’re routinely making your own andouillette, you can probably get away with just the big three: whip, paddle, and dough hook.
7. Nonstick cookware
One may think a French-trained cook would insist on the most expensive, high-end cookware. Not so! Julia loved her copper stuff, but she also loved her nonstick pans. She was a fan of all things nonstick, including sheet pans and muffin pans, but especially liked nonstick fry pans, considering them a “blessing” for omelettes and potatoes. (She was clearly very into omelettes!)
8. Wooden spatulas
Julia specifically calls for wooden spatulas over wooden spoons, explaining in Mastering the Art that a spatula’s flat surface allows for easier bowl scraping.
How many of these do you own? Which do you use most often?