Chef Vivian Howard is an expert on the culture and cuisine of the South, the setting for her show A Chef's Life, which focuses on her life in North Carolina as a chef and cookbook author. When she was invited to watch Julia Child make a classic pain de mie and a raisin bread on Dishing With Julia Child, Howard did a deep dive on the legendary chef and discovered that Julia's approach to cooking — simplicity, having fun, resourcefulness — is alive and well in her own approach to cuisine.

I recently spoke with Howard about what she has learned from Julia Child and why Julia is so loved by chefs. Here's what she said:

On getting to know Julia for Dishing With Julia Child:

"I had not grown up watching Julia child, but had always been compared to her in some way. So preparing for the Dishing With Julia Child series was kind of like jumping off a cliff. I was so impressed with her — the way that she really did not take herself that seriously, the way that she was so tenacious. It was so much about technique and ingredients and shopping and knowing more about the food that you're cooking, and relying less on the details of the recipe."

On being compared to Julia Child as a TV personality:

"[Like Julia] I had no preparation for being on TV. From the very beginning it was just myself and I acted with abandon as if no one was going to see it! And so when I look at Julia Child’s shows, particularly in the beginning, she very much has that wild look in her eye, like ‘I'm just winging this and I'm going to be myself.’ There was vulnerability in that and also weird awkwardness. And I think that's another reason that she empowered people because you can see, she’s an average person with extraordinary skills."

"And I feel like it's really empowering to see yourself in someone who's on TV. And I think that that's what makes her so approachable. And the reason that she encouraged so many people to cook French food — because you see her she's approachable, she makes mistakes, she's having a good time."

Marcus Samuelsson, in a tan sweater, red plaid pants and an orange cap, talks enthusiastically to Vivian Howard, wearing a denim jumpsuit, sitting at a wooden restaurant table
Marcus Samuelsson and Vivian Howard laugh while watching Julia Child on 'Dishing With Julia Child'
Courtesy of Adam Shanker

On the similarities between French cooking and Southern cuisine:

"The focus on ingredients — in the South, taking the chicken for instance, we have fryers which would be for smaller birds, good for frying and quick cooking. Then we have old hens that are for stewing. That’s like the French way of looking at ingredients and determining what they are good for. Also the emphasis on not wasting anything — making a use for that bigger, more mature bird, because you wouldn't dare waste it when someone has spent the time and the energy to grow it."

On home cooking during the pandemic:

"We've all been forced to look at our home kitchens differently. I think that Julia Child, in so many of her shows and the recipes that she introduced to us, there is a ‘project’ kind of vibe going through it. A lot of the things that she makes, she can't turn out in 30 minutes. For me during COVID, I've done a lot more project-oriented kitchen things. I think that that's something that those of us who were already cooking before COVID have turned to, to keep it interesting during this time."

"[Julia] never would have discouraged you from making one of her recipes if you didn’t have one ingredient. And I think that's something that I am trying to get across in my latest book — there are so many things in your pantry that you can use in lieu of something else. Don't let that prevent you from making something that you want to make. My advice: always try to do it with fewer utensils and fewer pots and pans."

Watch an all-day marathon of The French Chef and Dishing With Julia Child on Saturday, December 26 on GBH2.