August 15th, 2012
12:15 PM ET
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Today would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday, and Eatocracy is celebrating her legacy.

The setting is so inviting that you're almost compelled to plop yourself down in a chair for a kitchen coffee klatsch.

Except you can't. Because it's behind glass.

Julia Child's kitchen is back at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History after seven months of renovations. For the 100th anniversary of her birth, the museum is temporarily unwrapping a new space dedicated to the beloved television chef, which includes the kitchen from her Cambridge, Massachusetts home.

"The museum collected the kitchen in 2001 and we have assembled it here exactly the way it was on the day that Julia left her home when she moved back to her native state of California," explained curator Paula Johnson as she gave CNN a sneak peek.

The kitchen made its Smithsonian debut in 2002, intended as a temporary exhibit. Response from visitors made it a permanent star attraction. Among Julia's many personal touches - well-worn cookbooks, cat tchotchkes and a needlepoint of her signature, "Bon appetit!" - it's easy to overlook the steel pole on the ceiling where television lights were mounted. Child filmed three of her popular television series here.

"A lot of people feel they have been in this kitchen because they've seen her and various other chefs in the kitchen cooking," Johnson said.

Julia and her husband Paul designed the kitchen together when they moved to Cambridge in 1961. Paul chose the blue-green color scheme and specified higher countertops to accommodate Julia's 6-foot-2 frame. The wooden table covered in a Marrimekko print cloth was a centerpiece where the Childs entertained small groups of friends.

"This is where she wanted to have family and friends for dinner and to be involved and engaged in conversation and in appreciating the pleasures of the table," Johnson said. "Just looking at this room and seeing just how homey it is, you really can almost visualize yourself there."

In January museum staff packed up the appliances, knives, gadgets and cookbooks for the renovation. The summer reinstallation required equally meticulous replacement of 900 objects to their precise locations in the kitchen, guided by many photos and much documentation.

While visitors still won't be allowed inside the 14-by-20-foot space, there are more viewing points than before. For example, a wall display lined with copper pots and pans has been moved to a separate space.

The larger gallery space better highlights artifacts from Julia's life before food fame. Among them, a signal mirror she was issued during World War II while on duty with the OSS in Asia (she kept it in the junk drawer of the Cambridge kitchen), and her diploma from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

The area will stay open until September 3rd, then shutter again until November, while construction continues on a larger exhibition dedicated to - what else - food and wine. We think Julia would approve.

Got a favorite Julia Child story? Chime in below in the comments! See all Julia Child coverage

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Filed under: Celebrity Chefs • Culture • Food History • Julia Child


soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. labernat

    Julia Child is one of my heroes. I saw her kitchen last month at the Smithsonian. It was truly the highlight of my trip. I lingered so long that other tourists asked me to step aside and give others a chance to see!

    August 15, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Reply
  2. Jim Hahn

    My favorite story was when Julia was doing a "Stuffed Breast of Turkey" and she wanted to show what to do with leftover turkey carcass. She put a cleaver on top of the carcass and hit it with a rubber mallet. No effect. She wacked it again. No effect. She put down the rubber mallet and took the cleaver in her right hand and machette'd the carcass. It exploded all over the studio (a piece of it even went into the camera lens). She scooped up what was left and threw it into a pot and told the audience "we'll deal with that later" and went back to her stuffed breast of turkey. Absolutely hilarious.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  3. Perrin

    Happy birthday, Julia! Here's a list of what 9 famous chefs and food writers would cook for Julia on here birthday: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/food/2012/08/what-9-famous-chefs-and-food-writers-are-cooking-to-honor-julia-childs-100th-birthday/.

    Interesting that no one picked cake!

    August 15, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Reply

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