Specific Audiences of Ina Garten and Julia Child’s Cookbooks
The following extended essay is a piece I wrote for the IB Programme junior year in high school. I wasn't able to release it until now, because I didn't want to be cited as plagiarizing myself. It's pretty long but definitely worth a read.
Cookbooks do not only share recipes; they also teach readers new culinary techniques, guide hosts through social events, and provide a lens into the era in which they were written. Chefs write cookbooks for various reasons: to promote their personal brand, to share their life story, and also to introduce their readers to new gastronomic ideas. Yet, the diverse purposes and functions of cookbooks are not their most distinguishing characteristic. Cookbooks, unlike most other genres of books, are written to the reader in second person, creating an exclusively personal reading experience.
Julia Child addresses her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking to the “servantless American cook,” a title that has become applicable to many more people since the book was first published in 1961 (Child XXIII). When it was written, Mastering the Art of French Cooking brought French cuisine to American kitchens in a newly accessible way. Child’s success as an author and later as a TV chef was revolutionary. Mastering the Art of French Cooking became a gold standard for cookbooks to the extent that Food Network star and cooking royalty Ina Garten claims to have completely taught herself to cook from reading it (Pelzel). Since its publication, the role and audience of Mastering the Art of French Cooking have changed dramatically with competing cookbooks on the market, changes in consumer behavior, and its more recent popularity from the 2009 movie Julie and Julia.
In her own cookbooks such as The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, Ina Garten recounts her culinary journey from a professional in Washington, D.C. to Hamptons specialty food-store owner to household-name TV chef. Garten’s recipes carry a reputation for being “foolproof” (as she entitled one of her cookbooks) and infallible.
Methodology and Background
Julia Child was chosen as a focus of this paper because she was revolutionary in bringing cooking from scratch back to the United States. Her persona, dedication, and legacy are unmatched in the culinary world. Ina Garten is a fascinating juxtaposition to Child, sharing a comparable background and approach in the modern era. A comparison of similar recipes in each of the authors’ books will demonstrate subtle differences in their intended audiences. A view into the authors’ backgrounds will contribute to the understanding of the authors’ intended readerships. An analysis of the extent to which the authors appeal successfully to the specific audiences based on differences in the reader’s skill level, socioeconomic status, and age will also be critical in the discussion.
Within their recipes for similar dishes, both authors make specific rhetorical choices to meet the needs of their audiences. Ina Garten includes personal anecdotes that share her experiences alongside her recipes, explaining how she was introduced to the recipe or why she included it. She reserves the margins for supplementary tips such as, “unpeeled potatoes are easier to use and give this soup an earthy flavor” (Garten, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook 74). She also encourages the reader to take their own personal notes in the margins. This organization lends her cookbooks to practical use at home. Child’s brief comments are made in the second person. While she includes illustrations to demonstrate techniques and translates French words in brackets, her short, precise language may be cursory for the beginner chef. For instance, in explaining the proper conditions for working with a yeasted dough, Child addresses the reader in second person warning “if you allow the dough to rise too much...it will develop a taste of over fermented yeast.” Child, however, does not elaborate upon what would constitute as too long of a rise—a consideration that could easily befuddle a beginner (Child 658). These slightly vague comments are evident throughout the entire cookbook.
It is important to note that while Julia Child collaborated with two French chefs, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, to create their masterwork, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child played the predominant role in writing the actual language used in the book. While Bertholle and Beck were talented French chefs, they had trouble presenting their recipes in a way that attracted an American audience. As a result, Bertholle and Beck focused more on the authenticity and compilation of the recipes, while Child focused on writing the language as it would appeal to Americans (Jacobs).
Appealing to Audiences by Skill Level
Authors of cookbooks are challenged to write recipes that appeal to a broad range of people, skill levels, and experiences. In their writing, cookbook authors are forced to balance complexity and originality with simplicity and approachability. If chefs can devise a nine-course tasting dinner complete with a three-tiered cake and a signature cocktail, that is a stunning personal achievement; however, if they can teach their readers to do the same, that is a breathtaking feat of rhetorical genius.
In the foreword of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child references the complexity of cooking jargon, writing “recipe language is always...shorthand in which a lot of information is packed,” to advise the reader that careful attention to word choice is crucial. (Child XXVI). Child kept subtleties in mind such as that stirring beaten egg whites into a soufflé will ruin hard work, whereas folding them in will produce desired results. She even goes as far as to remark that the tiniest of details “can make the difference between passable cooking and fine food” (Child XXVI). While her advice is directed toward a less adept cook who may not be accustomed to the level of specificity required, it also indicates that her recipes will require careful attention and a considerable baseline of basic cooking skills. Child’s warning is particularly relevant because her recipes are widely known (and sometimes criticized) for their complexity.
In the beginning of her cookbook, Child includes an extensive glossary of terms including ingredients, techniques, and measurement conversions, complete with hand-drawn illustrations. This glossary section reads like a textbook—informative, but not easy reading. Professional Chef Regina Schrambling elaborates on this subject in her slate.com article “Don’t buy Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” remarking that the book is an excellent reference source, but she never would cook from it. Schrambling proceeds to claim that Child’s “recipes were written for a rigorous cook with endless patience for serious detail,” a largely declining demographic in the age of mobile-phone-pizza-delivery. Schrambling’s feelings towards Mastering the Art of French Cooking reflect the overcomplexity that often clouds Julia Child’s recipes. In her discussion of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Schrambling references boeuf bourguignon (or beef bourguignon), perhaps the quintessential French dinner recipe. When making boeuf bourguignon traditionally, pedestrian ingredients—a cheap cut of beef, onions, carrots, mushrooms, et cetera—are driven to perfection when braised for several hours with the aid of copious amounts of red wine. Schrambling points out that Child’s boeuf bourguignon recipe, as romantically depicted in the popular 2009 film, Julie and Julia, glosses over the ingredients and instructions that “span three pages...before you hit the fine print,” which directs the reader to two additional recipes for the preparation of the mushrooms and onions (Child et al. 316; Slate). Schrambling concedes that a careful execution of Child’s recipes yields delicious results, but it “makes cooking feel like brain surgery” (Slate). Schrambling’s analysis reveals that when Mastering the Art of French Cooking was written, it was the only book of its kind, and American cooks dealt with the complications and nuances if they wanted to make French food. Cooks now, however, are accustomed to instant gratification and convenience.
It would seem unlikely that Julia Child could compete with the 21st century TV cook who coined the motto “how easy is that?” Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook aims to make cooking accessible to the inexperienced by simplifying party planning and traditionally laborious recipes (many of which she adapted directly from Child). To begin her first cookbook, Garten dedicates a brief page with photographs to demonstrate exactly what she means by terms such as “julienne” or “chiffonade,” rather than incorporating a dictionary of techniques, ingredients, and equipment. In her version of boeuf bourguignon, she sautées filets of beef quickly on the stove rather than following the traditional braising method. In her introduction to the recipe Garten writes, “Twenty years ago, I used to follow Julia Child’s wonderful beef bourguignon recipe, but…I decided to make a version based on quickly sauteéd filets of beef. It cooks in a quarter the time and I think it is fresher than the original” (Garten, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook 123). This quick version offers a comparable flavor, cooks in less time, and spans just one page of instructions. And with her introduction, Garten diplomatically acknowledges the bequest value of Child’s recipes, yet still proposes that hers is preferable. For this recipe, Garten includes tips in the margins such as, “to peel the pearl onions easily, first blanch them for a minute or two in boiling water,” in an effort to make the process as easy as possible (Garten, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook 123). Garten’s use of the margins is an effective organizational tool because they allow her to include tips for a less experienced cook without distracting from the actual recipe. Garten is able to reach less experienced cooks to a much larger extent than Child because she is able to demystify all aspects of her recipes. This technique of using the margins for these tips is far more effective and clear than Child’s comprehensive glossary at the beginning of the book. It is more intuitive to see tips as they are needed, rather than in a separate section.
While their cookbooks focus on savory dishes, both Garten and Child include cake recipes in their dessert sections. Cake baking can prove intimidating to less skilled home cooks, but certain aspects of a recipe can narrow the margin of error. Ina Garten’s famous chocolate cake recipe, Beatty’s Chocolate Cake, forgoes the butter (and the necessity to cream it) by calling for vegetable oil instead. This change results in a much less involved method of preparation and a moister cake. Garten’s cake involves simply sifting together the dry ingredients, mixing in the wet, and stirring in a cup of coffee. To dispel any potential confusion, Garten includes a note in the margin of the recipe on the depth of her cake pans. While more professional bakers tend towards cake pan with deep, straight sides, cheaper pans for casual home use often sport tapered, short sides. To address this, her note gives alternative pan sizes that would work for the recipe (Garten, Make it At Home 165). Garten’s notes and method creates a chocolate cake recipe that could not be made easier to make. On the other hand, Julia Child’s comparable chocolate sponge cake is incomparably difficult to prepare. Her chocolate cake involves the many arduous processes of melting chocolate over a bain marie (not quite a basic technique), separating eggs (no room for error here), beating a meringue (careful not to overmix), and purchasing cake flour (not an ingredient most casual cooks carry on hand). Child’s cake recipe requires so many techniques that inevitably daunt all but the most seasoned bakers. Chocolate cake epitomizes Garten and Child’s recipes: both are cakes, but one requires triple the time, energy, and persistence to prepare.
Appealing to Audiences by Socioeconomic Status
Garten’s easy cooking comes with a drawback: her recipes often call for costly ingredients. Her boeuf bourguignon recipe cooks in a quarter of the time compared to the the traditional recipe because she calls for filets of beef, the most expensive cut (Garten, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook 123). In the grocery store, filets of beef can cost more than three times the price of stewing cuts (Meat Buying Guide). In addition, while the filets require a shorter cooking time for equivalent tenderness, a shorter cooking time leaves less time for complex flavors to develop. Garten remedies this by calling for “good” red wine, another ingredient that could become costly. In her version of the recipe, Julia Child lists rump pot roast, a cheap cut of stewing beef, as the ideal cut to use. Should the cut be unavailable, she lists four other acceptable cuts in addition (Child et al. 315). This is far more accessible to a less affluent cook, and it stays true to the original concept of the recipe, which focuses on taking cheap ingredients and turning them into a special dish. In this regard, Child achieves greater success. A reader may need to work harder to complete Child’s recipes, but the food will not become a financial burden.
Garten’s personal lifestyle also plays a role in her approachability to certain socioeconomic statuses. Her idyllic Hamptons residence has the ability to either alienate or attract the less affluent cook. On one hand, its prohibitively unobtainable appearance of perfection may drive away some readers with the impression that they cannot cook like her without the resources that she has available. On the other hand, its understated sense of class could be seen as the ultimate goal and inspiration for some. On her TV show, Garten hosts lavish parties in her barn for frivolous events. She makes stops in her Mercedes at expensive Hamptons specialty stores, and specifies to the butcher the thickness of her New York Strip that she prefers. Just when these unrelatable minutiae are overlooked, Garten slips in a comment such as “use lemon and galax leaves from your florist,” assuming all her readers will rush to consult their personal florist (Garten, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook 232). This lifestyle that surrounds Garten could discourage the more frugal cook from buying into her brand.
But her own polarizing qualities need not concern Garten. The majority of cookbook buyers are college-educated women, and her most recent cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey, outsold every other cookbook in 2016, with 130,273 more copies sold than the next-best selling cookbook (Statista; Publisher’s Weekly). Moreover, about 56 percent of all cookbook sales come from people with household incomes above $75,000 per year (Publisher’s Weekly). Her audience is comprised of mostly well-traveled, high income women who relate to her stories of luxurious travels in Paris. From a sales standpoint, both Child and Garten were successful despite being somewhat fantastically out of touch with the average American.
Appealing to Audiences by Age
In the 21st century, young people are offered recipes from a wide variety of free sources such as YouTube, food blogs, and even Snapchat “stories”. Consequently, cookbook authors are challenged to keep their material relevant and worth purchasing. Even though young people have access to more sources of recipes than ever, 28 percent of cookbook sales still come from people between the ages of 13 and 29 (Publishers Weekly), keeping them as a major demographic to which authors have no choice but to pay attention.
Despite its challenges, Mastering the Art of French Cooking retains strong cultural value to various age demographics, and Child is still thought of as the original television chef. While an older professional may not have time to make Julia Child’s recipes, a budding young chef or active retiree might. Child’s recipes remain the gold standard of French cooking in the United States, and a cook interested in traditional French cooking still may be inclined to turn to Mastering the Art of French Cooking on a weekend when they have time. Julia Child posthumously maintains her impeccable reputation, which, if anything, has been glorified further in recent years due to nostalgia and the press from the movie Julie and Julia. And Mastering the Art of French Cooking was never written for a mother with kids, either. In the foreword, Child specifies that her intended audience is “the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned...with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children’s meals, the parent–chauffeur–den-mother syndrome, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat” (Child XXIII). This approach may appear narrow and flawed in the present day, but it was at least intentional.
Currently, Child’s intended audience seems to exclude most working adults, an age demographic that makes up 43 percent of cookbook buyers (Publishers Weekly), but her redeeming quality in this regard is that many of her recipes can be prepared in advance. Child organizes her recipes to include asterisks, signifying parts of a recipe that can be started in advance and finished later. This organization strategy makes her recipes somewhat more palatable to a busy parent who plans meals in advance for an entire week, a practice called “meal prepping” . Even so, for most who do still cook from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, this is an activity designated for the likes of a Sunday afternoon.
In an economy with more and more dual-income households, fewer mothers can afford to stay home all day and focus on domestic tasks like cooking than could in the 1960s, when Mastering the Art of French Cooking was first published. In fact, according to Pew Research Center, compared to a 49 percent of mothers who did not work outside the home in 1967, only 23 percent of mothers stayed at home in 1999, when The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook was published (Cohn et al). This is a major cultural change that newer cookbook authors must consider in designing their recipes. Additionally, 60 percent of cookbook buyers say that the main factor influencing their purchase is how easy the recipes are. Buyers cared significantly less about the monetary value of the book or the reviews it received than the ease of use (Jacob). It is clear that staying aware of cultural changes is key to maintaining relevant content.
In her attempt to address this, Ina Garten focuses on simplicity and ease of preparation, suggesting that she intends her books mostly for the busy but culinary minded “soccer-mom” demographic. Her recipes include ones for lemonade and homemade granola, snacks geared toward children. Many of her recipes can be completed in under a half hour for a weeknight dinner. Her descriptions invite a relaxed mood. For example, an American cook may feel unfamiliar with a recipe for Chinese Szechuan Noodles, but Garten’s description makes it seem easy: “Almost all the ingredients can be stored in the pantry, so it requires very little last-minute shopping. The sauce can actually be made a week ahead then added to the hot cooked pasta just before serving” (Child, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook 108). To augment the ease of preparation, the recipe calls for spaghetti rather than a more authentic Asian noodle because it is likely that an American mom would have a box of spaghetti in their pantry, but she may not have easy access to lo mein noodles. Garten points out that the recipe requires mostly pantry-staple ingredients to appeal to a busy adult who may not have time for frequent trips to the grocery store. She also remarks that the sauce can be made far in advance to appeal to a younger generation of parents who partake in “meal prepping”. All of these intentional developments make Garten’s recipes attractive to cooks of all ages.
In investigating the extent to which Ina Garten and Julia Child appeal to certain audiences in their cookbooks through the use of diction and organization, similarities were revealed in their alienation of potential readers in the present day due to their superior socioeconomic statuses. At the same time, differences were revealed in the audiences they currently reach in the aspects of cooking experience and age. Ina Garten, supported with the cushion of modern technology, demystifies home cooking through her writing to a much larger extent than does Julia Child. In many ways, Child taught upper-middle class American women to cook French food, while Garten teaches them to cook Child’s food. Both women were able to reach a wider audience than had been reached before, and due to their respective wealth, both women ride a fine line between accessible and inaccessible. Child and Garten were also challenged by the fact that they themselves were not a part of the demographic that predominantly purchases cookbooks. Both women were far wealthier and more experienced with cooking than the average cookbook buyer (Ina Garten Net Worth; Reporter), and neither Child nor Garten bore children, although family dinners comprise the majority of their recipes. As a result of these factors, Child’s recipes marginally succeed in being approachable to a mother with basic cooking skills. Contrastingly, Garten’s recipes are far more simple and welcoming to the less experienced, busy cook, however, she does not fully succeed in making her recipes accessible to a middle class cook. Child and Garten have vastly different approaches to diction and organization in their cookbooks, partly due to the time period in which they were written, but also due to their unique style and influences. Both authors continue to captivate cooks with their personalities that shine through their words.
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